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House lawmakers advance bill to address bullying in Illinois schools

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- Across the country, many are experiencing attacks based on their religion, race, or ethnicity. While adults are dealing with these problems, state lawmakers know students also face this type of bullying.

Rep. Edgar Gonzalez (D-Summit) wants students to receive help from counselors or therapists after experiencing these attacks. His proposal is personal, as peers in high school made fun of his Mexican ethnicity.

"It was very easy of my friends, they would say some hurtful things," said Gonzalez.

He stressed there's no reason kids should feel humiliated by classmates. The 24-year-old Democrat explained there was never a space for him to confront the issues he faced during high school.

"With this bill, what we are trying to do is trying to make sure that we create these spaces and these environments in school buildings/school districts," said Gonzalez.

He also said this proposal can lead to important discussions with counselors or therapists. These administrators could educate students on why bullying someone based on religion, race, or ethnicity can be hurtful.

Maaria Mozaffar, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, said traditionally, when a student bullies others, they receive a detention. However, she stressed that doesn't foster a positive relationship with these students.

"We want to have an early intervention in these cases in which kids feel that they are empowered as a victim and the bully themselves. Our children are learning, so this is a learning process for them as well and it fosters understanding in diverse communities," said Mozaffar.

She noted bullying has been on the rise in schools across the state, especially in the last four years.

The measure passed unanimously out of the committee and will move to the House floor.

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Ali Rasper

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