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Posted at 4:05 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

NoVa. delegates push anti-bullying legislation

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Two Northern Virginia Democrats are sponsoring legislation to attempt to curb teen bullying, a topic that's received heightened national attention due to a spate of suicides of teenagers who had been targeted by classmates.

Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) is proposing a bill that would make egregious bullying a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Ebbin cited the case of York County high school student Christian Taylor, who committed suicide in May.

Taylor's mother has said she complained to school officials and local sheriff's deputies that the 16-year old was being bullied but they did little to help. The local sheriff's office has said it investigated her complaints and turned them over to school officials after determining no laws had been broken. In a wrongful death suit she has filed against local officials, Taylor's mother indicates that her son's bully allegedly told him before his death: "You need to just go ahead and kill yourself and get it over with."

Ebbin's bill would define bullying as "recklessly or intentionally endangering the health or safety of a student by exposing the student repeatedly, and over time, to physical aggression or intimidation, whether through direct physical contact or through the use of information or communication technology, resulting in bodily injury or other harm to person or property." It would also give victims the right to sue those who have bullied them.

Ebbin called it "outrageous" that bullying so severe as to lead to a student's suicide would not be criminal conduct.

"No student should be afraid to go to school," Ebbin said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday about the proposal.

Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) is sponsoring separate legislation that would require that teachers be trained in dealing with bullying, that they report bullying incidents to school authorities and mandate that they intervene when a student is being harassed. Englin's bill defines bullying more broadly than Ebbin's, calling it verbal, physical or written conduct that creates a hostile environment that interferes with another student's education, physical or psychological well-being.

The bill refers specifically to conduct motivated by: an actual or perceived personal characteristic including race, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ancestry, physical attributes, socioeconomic status, familial status, or physical or mental ability or disability."

Much of the attention devoted to the bullying issue in recent months has come from incidents in which students were teased by classmates who believed they were gay. But Englin acknowledged singling out bullying based on perceived sexual orientation might make the legislation more controversial in the conservative Virginia legislature.

"That is a challenge and that is something that we'll have to deal with as it goes through the legislative process," Englin said. "But it's a very important item that needs to be on the table for discussion...If you spend any time with kids in school, you know that is one of the things that's used as a weapon to harm other children."

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | January 5, 2011; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman  
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Comments

Jail time for bullying is excessive. The negative record and a fine should be enough to teach parents to pay closer attention to their kids and who they hang with.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | January 5, 2011 4:43 PM | Report abuse

"require that teachers be trained in dealing with bullying, that they report bullying incidents to school authorities and mandate that they intervene when a student is being harassed."

So just what are teachers going to be trained to do, administer a time out?

While I'm sure the intent of the legislation is good hearted, enforcement would be difficult.

Posted by: BEEPEE | January 6, 2011 1:35 AM | Report abuse

The laundry list of kinds of bullying should be left out of the bill. Simply make all bullying cause for disciplinary action.

Posted by: nvlheum | January 6, 2011 4:54 AM | Report abuse

No need for legislation. How about schools/districts handle the issues by themselves?

Posted by: jen288 | January 6, 2011 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jen288 "No need for legislation. How about schools/districts handle the issues by themselves?"
--------------------------
Since that is obviously working so well currently.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | January 6, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

The best way to deal with bullying ultimately is to create a culture of respect for people. Bullying thrives in unhealthy emotional environments, whether that is school, government, or the corporate world. What happens in schools often translates to what happens in the outside adult world too. Unfortunately, it's more a symptom of a problem in an environment than a condition in and of itself and there's no way any legislation can get rid of it by itself. Bullying mutates from open racism, sexism, homophobia and the like to more subtle (and therefore legal and/or permissible) forms very quickly.

Posted by: nvamikeyo | January 6, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

One other thing. I recently had a job where we had a hidebound HR representative who told us, "bullying isn't against the law. It has to be of an overtly sexual, physically or verbally abusive nature." For all the "it gets better" folks out there (from the gay rights movement) please do remember the adult world is still often a tough place to navigate as well.

Posted by: nvamikeyo | January 6, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

What's next, anti-breakup legislation? no last picks on the playground?

Posted by: ronjaboy | January 6, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I think that there should be a right for the bullied child to sue his tormentor and his or her parents - in cases of extreme emotional distress and ongoing bullying. I think making it a criminal act absent assault (which there already is a law on the books for that) raises too many constitutional issues - e.g. this might criminalize speech. With having it be a civil liability issue both sides could present their case and a jury or judge could weigh each case. As to the commentators who think nothing should be done I suppose they were lucky enough not to be bullied. How good for them. And administrators at schools rarely lift a finger and even when they do most bullies laugh it off because usually they get a slap on the risk. Hit a bully - or more importantly the bully's parents - in the wallet and watch how it ends.

Posted by: da55 | January 6, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

There should already be harassment laws on the books, though I know it can be more difficult to get in Virginia. I grew up in Wisconsin in a small town, but the principals were great. When I was bullied/harassed in high school, the principals and counselors contacted the people several times and even offered to contact the police for me. I think it is a matter of changing the minds of the people who run the schools. If schools could be sued, their policies would change very quickly. It won't matter if there are laws on the books, if the schools don't call the police.

Posted by: amweber | January 6, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Singling out perceived sexual orientation would also weaken the law because that is not the only reason bullying occurs. Odd that the best reason to not specify sexual orientation in the bill is thought to be lamentable.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 6, 2011 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The anti-bullying laws don't go far enough. Jail time for the offenders' parents would bring a ray of hope that the entire family will be held responsible for the bad behavior of the child(ren)! Fines are a great idea and if the parents do not pay them, tack them on to the personal property taxes on their property! Bullying can and WILL be dealt with, one way or another!

Posted by: dakotahgeo | January 6, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Bullying and harrasment are the same thing. There should not be a laundry list of the reasons for bullying simply make all bullying/harrasment a crime. A fine of $1200.00 should do it for a first time offence and higher for repeated offences. No jail time for first offence but, possible jail time (6 months to one year) for repeat offenders. Make those who fail to report the incident accomplises punishable by the same fines and sentences as the offender. A very simple solution to a terrible problem!

Posted by: Voyager40 | January 6, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Bullying and harrasment are the same thing. There should not be a laundry list of the reasons for bullying simply make all bullying/harrasment a crime. A fine of $1200.00 should do it for a first time offence and higher for repeated offences. No jail time for first offence but, possible jail time (6 months to one year) for repeat offenders. Make those who fail to report the incident accomplises punishable by the same fines and sentences as the offender. A very simple solution to a terrible problem!

Posted by: Voyager40 | January 6, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

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