Georgia House approves anti-bullying legislation
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Georgia House has passed controversial legislation that would require school officials to notify parents when their child is involved as the victim or instigator of bullying. The bill sets a January 2011 deadline for the state Department of Education to develop an anti-bullying policy that can be a model for local school systems. That policy will include age-appropriate consequences for bullying from kindergarten through 12th grade, and the same will be true for the local school system policy updates that will follow. Current policies only deal with bullying in sixth through 12th grades. The state school superintendent’s office had some reservations about the bill when it was first proposed, in part because of language that included property damage as a form of bullying, spokesman Matt Cardoza said. That, he said, “would have been difficult for school systems.” A kindergartner could be accused of bullying for breaking a classmate’s pencil, suggested one House member. However, after the property damage reference was eliminated, the amendment passed 99-55, and the bill it was attached to cleared by a vote of 119-45. The measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
The bill was sparked by the death last year of Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old boy. His parents have said that the boy committed suicide after facing anti-gay taunts from classmates. An investigation said his death could not be attributed solely to a “simplistic case of bullying.” The bill says bullying can be threats of injury, displays of force used to intimidate a victim, or written, verbal and physical acts “which a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass or intimidate.”
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/30/10, By Nancy Badertscher
[Editor’s Note: The Georgia School Boards Association provides a bill-tracking service regarding pending legislation affecting Georgia schools. It is linked below.
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that nine students at South Hadley High School face criminal charges, ranging from criminal harassment and civil rights violations to stalking and statutory rape, in connection with the suicide of a classmate they allegedly harassed and bullied. Phoebe Prince endured a monthslong campaign of verbal abuse and physical threats before hanging herself in January. When Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced charges against the nine students, she excoriated school officials for failing to intercede, despite the fact the harassment was known to a number of faculty, staff, and administrators. Scheibel also said that Prince’s mother had spoken with at least two school staff members about the bullying, which the superintendent of schools, Gus Sayer, had previously denied. In the school district’s statement, Christine Sweklo, assistant superintendent, said that administrators had launched a review of the district’s bullying policies and would begin entering reports of harassment and the subsequent responses into an electronic database. In January the supertinednent told the Globe that Prince was mainly harassed online and through text-messages. However, Scheibel said the harassment was primarily carried on during the school day. “I guess I would look to the School Committee and the school administration to review the matter further,’’ said board chairman John R. Hine. “The [School] Committee is the authority for running the school department, so this is their area. I certainly hope they make every effort to investigate further that administrators knew what had been going on.’’ The Boston Globe article is available at the second link below.
The New York Times also reported on the filing of charges, noting that the Massachusetts House and Senate have passed versions of an anti-bullying law, but disagreement remains on whether all schools will be required to conduct staff training about bullying. The Times quoted Robert O. Trestan, Eastern States Civil Rights Counsel of the Anti-Defamation League, whose organization has led the effort for legislation in Massachusetts. The prospective law, Trestan said, is aimed at changing school cultures and preventing bullying, but would not label bullying a crime because it is a vague concept. “These indictments tell us that middle school and high school kids are not immune from criminal laws,” he said. “If they violate them in the course of bullying someone, they’ll be held accountable. We don’t need to create a new crime.” The New York Times article is available at the second link below.]
Georgia School Boards Association’s Capitol Watch Online
Boston Globe, 3/31/10, By Peter Schworm and Milton J. Valencia
New York Times, 3/29/10, By Erik Eckholm and Katie Zezima