State Bullying Laws Ineffective in the Fight Against School Bullying

Over the past two days I have blogged about the effects of bullying on children and parents. As a parent, whether your child is a bully or a bullying victim, it is hard to overestimate the negative effects that bullying can have on children. State lawmakers also understand the gravity of bullying, and, in the past few years, have passed laws designed to curb bullying and help parents, teachers and school administrators properly punish bullies. But anti-bullying advocate are now citing a recent spate of suicides by bullying victims to point out that state laws are not being enforced and do not go far enough to identify and punish bullies.

It’s not as if laws are not in place. Forty-four states have passed laws that expressly band bullying. These laws were passed back in the late 1990’s in response to another rash of bullying related crimes – school shootings. But anti-bullying advocates contend that the laws, which are supposed to identify and punish those who excessively torment their peers, are rarely, if ever, enforced.

The bullying issue was brought to Georgian’s attention again last April when 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, a student in the DeKalb County school system, hanged himself after, his mother alleges, suffering from chronic school bullying. A later investigation denied the allegations, but parents of other bullying victims have since come forward complaining that Georgia school districts also failed to react when they reported school bullying.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted Mike Wilson, who says his daughter was bullied for two years at the same school while teacher and administrators looked on.

"There is a systematic problem," Wilson told the AJC. "The lower level employees, the teachers, the principals, are trying to keep this information suppressed at the lowest possible level."

Georgia’s ten-year-old anti-bullying law is one of the toughest in the nation. It states that a school will be stripped of its state funding if it is found to have allowed more than three incidents of bullying from a single student. It also states that, after those three instances of bullying, a bully must be transferred to an alternative school away from his or her victim. According to the law, school systems found not complying will forfeit state funding.

Despite the tough language of the law, the Georgia Department of Education does not keep track of bullying statistics and was unable to report whether any students had been transferred due to repeated incidences of bullying. Spokeswoman Dana Tofig told the AJC that the department tallies transfers based on broader offenses than bullying, including categories such as fighting and threats.

"If the district is not enforcing its own bullying policy, and that's been happening repeatedly, the law says they can lose their state funding," Tofig said.

According to the Department, no schools have lost state funding as a result of failing to curb bullying.

Further, Georgia’s anti-bullying law only applies to students in grades 6 through 12. Jaheem Herrera was a 5th grader.

Many anti-bullying advocates, including Brenda High, who founded the web site Bully Police USA after her 13-year-old son Jared committed suicide due to bullying, advocate passing laws that equate school bullying with assault.

"The records and such need to be kept so that if the child is a chronic bully, they — after so many instances — will end up in an alternative school," High said.

School officials, though, raise questions such as: How do you quantify bullying? Starting rumors, internet bullying and even rolling the eyes can all be considered bullying in certain circumstances. And if that is the case, officials say, what can be done?

School bullying is as complex issue because it challenges both human emotions and behavior and the law. Watch this blog for more on school bullying news as this important story continues.