Anti-bullying bill could change local school culture


"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">AUSTIN —

A Texas House anti-bullying bill heavily focused on a growing

number of cyberbullying cases could bring drastic changes in the

way bullying cases are handled in public school districts

throughout the state. If passed, the anti-bullying law would

enforce a No Place For Hate and zero tolerance for bullying culture

in Texas schools, said Mary Throop, Rep. Mark Strama’s chief of

staff and education advisor.

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">Leander

ISD has already adopted the No Place for Hate initiative at several

of its campuses and teachers at individual campuses have had their

students sign a pledge — “Resolution of Respect” — in which

students promise to treat everyone fairly, be kind to everyone even

if they are different, report anyone who may hurt or be bullied and

help everyone feel safe and happy at school. However, even schools

that reinforce a kindness and no-tolerance-for-hatred culture

sometimes find themselves dealing with cases of bullying including

some in LISD. That’s where House Bill 224 comes in by taking a step

further in the anti-bullying cause. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">The bill

seeks to train teachers and administrative staff on how to look for

and deal with cyberbullying on their campuses, make it mandatory

for parents of the bullied and the bullies to be notified of an

incident at school and for schools to keep a yearly record of

harassment incidents as well as make all parties involved — school

staff, students and parents — aware of tell-tale signs of bullying

and how to stop it before it escalates, Throop explained. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">Strama’s

(D-Austin) idea for House Bill 224 began about three years ago

after he was principal for a day at Canyon Vista Middle School in

Round Rock ISD. The principal at the time had been working on the

bullying issue for a number of years after seeing it happen at a

previous campus she worked at and then at CVMS and wanted to do

something more to help her students. The Texas Safe Schools

Coalition was also interested in forming more rigorous guidelines

for anti-bullying at the time. So Strama found it to be the ideal

time to begin working on something that could become potential

state law. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">If made

into law, the anti-bullying/harassment law would amend the Texas

Education Code definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying.

The bill was filed on Nov. 9, 2010, considered in public hearing on

March 1 of this year and left pending in the committee. Equality

Texas worked with bill authors to arrive at a bill that could be

supported by Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas

and the GLBT Issues Committee of NASW-Texas. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">“The

current code on bullying is pretty outdated at this point because

it was put in before technology like cell phones and the Internet

were used as platforms for bullying,” Throop explained. “This new

bill includes a definition of cyberbullying along with the

definition of bullying in general. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">Sen.

Wendy Davis is working with Strama’s team and advocating the bill

in the Texas Senate. Throop hopes the bill will move to the House

floor this week or soon thereafter as it is receiving notable

support, including from users of the popular social networking

site, Facebook. HB 224 is one of seven anti-bullying bills that

have been recently introduced into the state’s legislature. 

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">LISD

staff will give school board members an update on the district’s

anti-bullying initiative at Thursday's meeting beginning at 6:15

p.m. in the Cedar Park Middle School cafeteria. The Texas Child

Safety Organization recently held the first cyberbullying

conference in the Austin area. Strama moderated the forum while

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell proclaimed March 6 as Cyberbully

Awareness Day. LISD posted information about the conference and

Cyberbully Awareness Day on its website.

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">

“Amazingly, some kids don’t realize when they’re being bullied.

That’s why the training piece is so important and puts it in the

minds of teachers and administrators and some good strategies they

can put in place to kind of change the culture of their campus. It

teaches kids and parents how to recognize bullying behavior and say

we don’t do this on our campus. It’s everybody working together,”

Throop said, adding that the No Place For Hate initiative has

proved to be a success.

"margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">

“Discipline referrals have dropped and it’s just a better and safer

environment for kids to learn,” she said. 

UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills got hearing in Texas

Senate on Tuesday, March 22.