3 Southern states stick it to bullying
By Kennington Smith, Travis Milton, and Nayirah Muhammad
Anti-bullying legislation has been enacted in 49 states so far, with the exception of Montana. Students looked at legislation in three Southern states: Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
June 29, 2005, Debbie Johnston found her 15-year-old son Jeffrey’s lifeless body as it hung from his closet. She then found a note from her son telling the world he was committing suicide because his life had become too hard. Over the previous few years, Jeffrey was victim to vicious bullying that caused him to become depressed.
A tragedy such as this prompted Debbie Johnston and others to lobby Florida lawmakers to pass new legislation to protect Florida students from bullying and to prevent other suicides from happening. After an emotional three-year battle, the Florida Legislature passed the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” in May 2008. The act requires all school districts in Florida to adopt their own policies and procedures in dealing with acts of bullying within the schools.
Currently, Florida has anti-bullying laws that protect all students from bullying as well as cyberbullying regardless of gender, race or religion, according to stopbullying.gov.
While 49 states have anti-bullying laws, Florida is one of the few that penalizes schools that do not comply with anti-bullying legislation. According to abcnews.com (penalty is potential loss in state funding, approx. $65,263). The Florida Board of Education now has a page on its website www.fldoe.org that provides resources to parents, students and educators on the prevention of bullying.
Though Florida has laws against bullying, problems still remain. In Naples, two teen girls, Taylor Winn and McKenzie Barker, were charged in 2011 with aggravated stalking after they reportedly bullied another girl through a fake Facebook account.
Georgia was the first state to enact bullying laws in 1999, according to bullypolice.org, an advocacy and watchdog organization for bullied children.
Georgia first passed the O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.4 law to encourage the termination of bullying. Georgia later passed Senate Bill 250 (SB 250) in 2010. This bill became such a success that it was granted the grade of A++ by bullypolice.org.
SB 250 was enacted after a fake Facebook profile of a Cobb County middle school student was made by two of her classmates. The profile was active for more than a year. The girl and her family begged authorities to take it down, but they ignored their plea. The controversy over the page grew so much that it made headlines on CNN. The family then filed a libel defamation lawsuit in 2010 against the kids and their parents. SB 250, stresses that the defendants in the case can be reassigned to different schools to keep the bullying from happening, according to stopbullying.org. The suit was dismissed due to no crime being done. The kids were advised to apologize as well as make donations to charities, stated thewatchful-eye.com.
SB 250 states that bullying is prohibited in school zones. The bill also mandates teachers and other adults in the school to prevent any sign of bullying.
On May 20, 2009, then-Governor Bob Riley of Alabama signed the Anti-Bullying Legislation, also known as HB 0216, into law. HB 0216, however, has many twists. HB 0216 does not protect specific groups, such as persons with disabilities and homosexuals.
Also, bullying is defined as “harassment.” According to Section 1, Article A of HB 0216, harassment is defined as: “A continuous pattern of intentional behavior that takes place on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored function including, but not limited to, written, verbal or physical acts that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any characteristic(s) of a student, or by association of a student with an individual who has a particular characteristics….”
Since the passing of HB 0216, the Alabama State Board now trains teachers and school administrators on how to detect the signs of bullying in the schools and school districts. As for the possible student-teacher harassment; there is no active segment in HB 0216 that protects students from being harassed by teachers/administrators.
Almost a year after HB 0216 was passed in 2010, a 15-year-old Chilton County girl Alex Moore fell off the interstate ramp to her death. Her suicide was a result of the recent death of her sister and the immense amount of bullying from her peers on Facebook.