2011 Lege Wrap Up: Anti-Bullying

by Jose Medina

Efforts to protect bullied schoolchildren in Texas have been largely unsuccessful in state legislative sessions past. But with the mounting number of high-profile tragedies across the country in the last couple of years — with some children driven to suicide by relentless bullying — those unsuccessful anti-bullying measures were bound to get a fresh look in the 2011 Texas Legislative session.

TFN tracked three anti-bullying pieces of legislation during the 2011 session. One of those, HB 1942, was a substantial victory in the fight to keep schoolchildren safe. Sponsored by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, the bill won final approval with bipartisan support in the waning days of the regular session and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

HB 1942 includes a few firsts. For starters, it amends the Education Code to include a definition of bullying — a definition that includes a new vehicle for harassment popular with bullies: cyberbullying. It also provides for the possible transfer of a bully to another school. Under previous law only the target of the bully — the victim — was eligible for transfer to another school.

Other provisions, such as training school staff and administrators to identify and prevent bullying, and a mandate that school districts adopt an anti-bullying policy, are part of this legislation.

Other anti-bullying bills filed this session that were not successful included SB 205 by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and HB 224 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. Both bills had much in common in that they provided teachers and administrators with needed tools to combat bullying.

All of the bills also had one other thing in common: determined and at times irrational opposition from religious-right groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute. I say irrational because much of the opposition was based on the assumption that anti-bullying laws would somehow promote homosexuality. (In a number of the cases of bullying resulting in suicide, the victims were targeted because they were gay or perceived to be gay.)

In the case of HB 1942, Texas Eagle Forum went as far as to argue against the legislation because they claimed gay students aren’t bullied as much as other students are for other reasons, such as for their religious beliefs.

To be clear, HB 1942 didn’t even mention sexual orientation. In any case, TFN worked with Equality Texas in support of HB 1942 and is happy to see it pass, though it’s only a first step. We remain hopeful that each incremental step will lead to safer schools for Texas students.