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A few weeks ago, the topic of school bullying seemed to have dropped off the radar of the mainstream media. After a flurry of teen suicides in the last few years focused the nation’s attention on state anti-bullying efforts, the spotlight was eventually pushed away. But last month’s tragic suicide of teenager Jamey Rodemeyer has refocused national attention on bullying. The Washington Post provides background on Jamey and the events leading up to his death. Jamey, a 14-year-old New York teenager, struggled with his sexual identity. His parents were supportive and he saw a social worker and therapist. But Jamey was regularly bullied and teased at school. So, Jamey sought support on the Internet. In May, he posted an “It Gets Better” Youtube video, expressing support for others in his situation. Jamey also started a blog on the website Tumblr to express his feelings. But the bullying continued. Jamey wrote:
“No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down,” he wrote on Sept. 8. He said the next day: “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. … What do I have to do so people will listen to me?”
Jamey’s death raises serious questions about the impact, both positive and negative, that social media has on children. Although Jamey received some support in response to his Youtube video, he also received some horrendously obscene comments. One of the comments Jamey received on Formspring, a social tool that allows users to give and receive anonymous feedback, said:
“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it…It would make everyone WAY more happier!”
Jamey’s parents and others (including Lady Gaga) are determined to make sure that other families won’t suffer Jamey’s fate by encouraging lawmakers to strengthen anti-bullying efforts. What did Texas lawmakers accomplish during the legislative session this Spring? On June 17, Governor Perry signed HB 1942. The four main effects of the bill are below (adapted from the House Research Organization’s bill summary):
- Bullying defined. The bill defines bullying as engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct that occurred on school property, at a school-sponsored event or school-related activity, or on a vehicle operated by the district. To be considered bullying, the behavior would have to have the effect of physically harming the student, damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or of damage to the student’s property. The behavior would have to be severe, persistent, and pervasive enough that it created an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the student, exploited an imbalance of power between the student perpetrator and the student victim, and interfered with a student’s education or substantially disrupted the operation of a school.
- Policies and procedures to handle and prevent bullying. The board of trustees of each school district is required to adopt a policy on bullying, including any necessary procedures, that (A) prohibits the bullying of a student; (B) prohibits retaliation against any person who in good faith provided information on an incident of bullying, including a victim or witness; (C) establishes a procedure to notify a parent or guardian of the victim and the bully within a reasonable amount of time after the incident; (D) sets out the available counseling options for a student who was a victim of or a witness to bullying or who engaged in bullying; and (E) establishes procedures for reporting an incident of bullying, investigating a reported incident of bullying, and determining whether the reported incident of bullying occurred.
- Transferring a student who engages in bullying. The bill allows the school district’s board of trustees or its designee to transfer a student engaging in bullying to another classroom or campus. The transfer of a student receiving special education services could be made only by an admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee.
- Essential knowledge and skills. The bill requires that the state’s health curriculum include evidence-based practices that effectively addresses awareness, prevention, identification, and resolution of and intervention in bullying and harassment.
The law isn’t perfect, but it is a start. And until states do make tougher laws, parents will continue to be forced to utilize less desirable, backward-looking legal strategies.