Anti-Bullying Bill Set For Public Hearing

by Jose Medina

Few of us would disagree that we have a duty to keep children safe, and that means we are all invested in ensuring that our schools provide a safe learning environment.

That is why we’re pleased to see that HB 224 — proposed anti-bullying legislation filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin — has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Public Education next Tuesday. If it becomes law, Rep. Strama’s bill would provide educators and school administrators the kind of comprehensive tools they need to stop bullying in its tracks and, hopefully, prevent the kind of unfortunate and tragic cases of teen suicides we have all read about in the past year.

Our friends at Equality Texas can give you a snapshot of the problem, and the reasons why it demands a response from our lawmakers. Surveys conducted by EQTX have shown that 39 percent of Texas students have reported being verbally harassed, and 17 percent reported being physically harassed or assaulted. Equally troubling are the reasons for the abuse, which include race/ethnicity, gender and perceptions about the student’s sexuality. More on this legislation after the jump. Here is just some of what HB 224 would do:

  • Amend the Education Code to allow teachers to receive training in the prevention, identification and reporting of and response to bullying.
  • Expand the definition of bullying to include bullying by electronic means such as computers (Internet/electronic media), cell phones, text messaging, and instant messaging.
  • Expand the definition of bullying to include actions “motivated by a perceived imbalance of power based on another student’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or beliefs or by another student’s association with a third person and based on the third person’s characteristics, behavior, or beliefs”.
  • Except in certain circumstances, mandate that the school district superintendent provide notice to the parent or guardian of the victim of the alleged bullying. This provision also mandates that the school principal inform the victim of their right to not have their parent or guardian notified of the incident.

If you support these kinds of common-sense solutions, you’re not alone. Polling conducted by TFN last year found that 88 percent of Texas voters favored requiring public schools “to protect all children from bullying, harassment, and discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay.”

In other words, almost all Texans agree that bullying — no matter the reasons for it — should not be tolerated in our schools. This legislation would be an important first step in addressing this critical problem.

What You Can Do
We encourage you to contact members on the House Committee on Public Education to express your support for this legislation. You can find each member’s contact information here.

Here are some suggestions for what you can say when contacting legislators:

  • Bullying is a serious problem in Texas that needs to be addressed immediately.
  • Texans overwhelmingly support requiring schools to prevent bullying, as a number of recent polls have shown.
  • All school children deserve to have a safe space in which to learn.