NoVa. delegates push anti-bullying legislation
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."
Rosalind S. Helderman
| January 5, 2011; 4:05 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman
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