JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Sen. Eric Schmitt took to the senate floor yesterday and made an impassioned speech about increased accountability for school administrators after learning about the beating of a 12-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome in Liberty, Missouri.
Blake Kitchen’s story has made headlines around the state, and public outcry has grown as his family claims that they informed the school about the severe bullying of the classmate who ended up putting Kitchen in the hospital. Kitchen’s family claims they made more than one plea to the school that this particular student was dangerous. Schmitt said the school had fundamentally failed Kitchen.
“[The school] failed you. They failed you because they didn’t listen,” Schmitt said on the floor. “But Blake, your story has made me realize, and my colleagues hopefully realize, that there are far too many children afraid to go to school, too many children who suffer in places where they’re supposed to feel secure, and places they should be free to learn without being tortured.”
Schmitt is the father of a special needs child who is also on the autism spectrum, and grew visibly enraged as he recalled to his colleagues the claims of the Kitchen family that a school bully went on unimpeded despite their warnings and ultimately hospitalized the 70lb Kitchen for 5 days with a skull and jaw bone fracture.
“Every time I hear about a school issue from a school administrator, it has to do with money,” Schmitt said, raising his voice to a near yell on the senate floor. “Now, I want to talk about money. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get money. I’m tired of it.”
Schmitt has vowed to support legislation in the senate adding new requirements to the actions a school must take with regard to bullying. Earlier this year, Schmitt promised to support HB458, sponsored by Rep. Sue Allen. The legislation creates new minimum standards for all public school bullying policies, mandates the reporting of bullying by school officials and prohibits retaliation of any kind against individuals reporting bullying.
Schmitt will carry the bill in the senate, where the bill may gain renewed interest thanks to the story about Blake Kitchen.
Some lawmakers, many of them Democrats, have pushed for new language in anti-bullying legislation specifically to protect LGBT students. Schmitt said that the legislation isn’t aimed at including or excluding any particular protected class, but at requiring schools to have strict anti-bullying policies that they must follow.