City postpones anti-bullying ordinance vote

Sun Prairie elected officials are considering an anti-harassment ordinance that would hold parents of bullies accountable for their children’s actions.

Offenders could make amends by participating in restorative justice, and if that doesn’t work, parents could be fined. 

Sun Prairie elected officials are considering an anti-harassment ordinance that would hold parents of bullies accountable for their children’s actions.

Offenders could make amends by participating in restorative justice, and if that doesn’t work, parents could be fined. Sun Prairie Police Department supports the ordinance.

Sun Prairie alders were set to vote on the ordinance at the Aug. 6 Committee of the Whole Meeting but postponed it to get public input on last-minute ordinance changes.

The ordinance specifically prohibits persons under age 18 from harassment— verbal, physical and written, or any mode of communication. SPPD would be required to contact, in writing, the parent or guardian of the violator. Fines could be levied against the parents but would be stayed if there is participation in a restorative justice process.

The effort started when parents showed up at a January Committee of the Whole meeting and made emotional pleas urging city officials to support an anti-bullying ordinance.

Parents told stories of how their children were bullied in the Sun Prairie Area School District and how the district was limited in their responses. The parents asked for the city to get involved to hold parents of kids accused of bullying accountable.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Sun Prairie mom Rogette Koby told city alders how she had to track down the parents of kids who bullied her daughter so they could help stop the behavior.

She said a joint effort— a city ordinance, along with efforts at the school district and in the community—is the best solution to prevent and stop bullying. She urged city alders to pass an ordinance.

“I don’t think that we want to be a city with blood on our hands if we do not do this,” Koby told city alders at the Aug. 6 meeting.

The Youth and Families Commission (YFC), which the Committee of the Whole asked to review the issue, wants to form a citywide collaborative of community members to discuss the issue.

A YFC subcommittee looked at anti-bullying ordinances from the Cities of Monona and Janesville and other legal opinion but didn’t recommend that route for the city. YFC Chair Mary Ellen Havel Lang that the commission is earmarking $7,000 to start the collaborative and hire a facilitator.

Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki said the department already contacts parents of kids accused of bullying and uses different resources to stop the behavior. He said the SPPD supports having an anti-bullying, harassment ordinance as another “tool in our tool belt” to use.

Several ordinance supporters at last Tuesday’s meeting wanted the ordinance to emphasis restorative justice instead of fines. In restorative justice, the offender, victim and community members met to find a solution to help repair the harm caused by bullying.

Others said they didn’t want people of color and low-income households- negatively impacted by the ordinance—either through disciplinary or the issuing of fines.

The Sun Prairie City Council is set to vote on the ordinance at its Sept. 3 meeting, starting at 7 p.m at city hall, 300 E. Main St. For more information, see the meeting agenda posted on the city website, www.cityofsunprairie.com

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