SPRINGFIELD – A push to make Illinois schools adopt more-detailed policies to prevent bullying fell short Tuesday in the state Senate amid concerns that its real purpose was to lecture students on embracing homosexuality.
The measure fell one vote short of passage, although it could get another chance in the remaining days of the legislative session.
The bill would have required anti-bullying policies to include a definition of bullying and a statement saying it was against the law.
The policies would have spelled out how allegations could be submitted anonymously and how they would be investigated. Policies also would have been required to describe what could happen to students who bully others, such as counseling or community service.
Some conservatives feared the bill would be used as cover to indoctrinate students. The Illinois Family Institute lobbied for an “opt out” provision that would let students and teachers skip any lessons or events that violated their religious beliefs.
“There are some programs that are not just against bullying in general. Some of them tend to have an agenda of being pro-homosexual,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon.
The legislation would not require schools to offer programs on bullying or homosexuality, but McCarter said it would be a step toward such a mandate.
Supporters denied that it would open the door to promoting a particular viewpoint on homosexuality or any other issue. They noted it specifically includes language saying the bill isn’t meant to interfere with anyone’s freedom of speech or freedom of religion.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said it would make no sense to include an “opt out” provision because there’s nothing specific for students to skip. The bill requires schools to adopt more detailed policies, she said, but it doesn’t require particular lessons or assemblies.
The measure needed 30 votes to pass but got only 29, with 12 senators voting “no” and 12 voting “present.” Steans said some supporters were absent, so she’s optimistic it could pass if called for another vote.