Anti-Bullying Law Comes to Texas Schools

By Emily Grobe
For Reporting Texas

In August, school districts in Texas will have to take a more formal approach to bullying incidents, a change in law that has garnered praise from anti-harassment organizations but criticism from some school officials and small-government groups.

Since bullying has been blamed for teenage suicides around the country, including in Texas, every state except Montana has an anti-bullying law on the books, the majority of which are administered through school districts. Of those, more than half were passed in the past five years. In its last legislative session, Texas passed House Bill 1942 and its sister legislation Senate Bill 471.

In Texas, like in other states, “bullying” means engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct that will physically harm another student or student’s property, or is persistent enough to create an intimidating or threatening educational environment for a student.

The Texas legislation, which was authored by five different legislators, including Rep. Mark Strama, who represents parts of Travis County, lays out specific steps to addressing bullying. In addition to defining bullying and cyberbullying, it requires training for school district staff and allows for 
the transfer of students involved with bullying, a tactic that has never been allowed by law. In addition, the bills expand the requirements on school districts to address bullying and harassment, through parental notification, programs for students and staff,  counseling for bullies and victims and protection for those who report bullying. Charter schools also are required to adopt a policy on sexual abuse starting this year.

Equality Texas, a group that lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, calls the bill “the single best opportunity … to address
 the problem of bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment in Texas schools.” After passage of the bills, the website BullyPolice.org, a watchdog organization that advocates for bullied children and state anti-bullying laws, gave Texas the organization’s highest grade for its efforts.

Yet some school officials say the legislation provides little relief and is only adding costs and workload to administrators.
 For instance, Pflugerville Independent School District officials say the law addresses an issue they always have taken seriously, while its uncertainty and the increased workload will make their efforts to address bullying more difficult.

“Until we arrive at some accepted definitions of bullying and have time to educate parents, the law will get used inappropriately,” said Freddie McFarland, Pflugerville’s director of student affairs. “The biggest problem is anticipating how the legal system is going to respond. We don’t have good guidance in that area now.”

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. Carla Martini, a prevention specialist with Connections Individual and Family Services in South Texas who serves districts in Wilson, Atascosa and Karnes counties, said that schools are focusing on bullying right now, and she is interested to see how the law will help the issue.

“Bullying has a definite effect on a student’s self-esteem, on their education, on a lot of things,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea that districts may have new avenues to deal with the issue, but I’d like to see how the new law does that first.”

Part of the new law allows district officials to move or transfer a student considered a bully, rather than move the victim, as has been done in the past. And while Martini was hesitant to say that was the best way to deal with a bullying situation, she applauded the law’s effort to give districts more tools and resources to address the problem.

“Most victims are already going through so much. It may help them to be able to stay in their classroom or school and not have their world turned upside down anymore,” she said.

McFarland expressed a similar sentiment but added that the change in law could create another issue and more work for administrators to deal with.

“It never made sense to move the victim, but it will make our work a little harder because now you can just get mad at someone and try to get them moved to another school by claiming they have bullied you,” he said. “It increases the importance of a step-by-step process and good documentation.”

That documentation will require more paperwork from administrators and more monitoring and training for classroom teachers – which McFarland thinks could take time away from their teaching duties.

“With large, diverse campuses we have to work to improve the quality of our interpersonal relations and especially student interactions,” McFarland said.
 “The policies we have are good. The campus administrators have been very proactive, and I think the procedures we are using have helped control the incidents.”

The Pflugerville district defines bullying much the way the new law does and includes examples ranging from name calling and rumor spreading to assault, demands for money and destruction of property. The policy also outlines reporting and investigating procedures and allows
 for “appropriate disciplinary or corrective action” by the district.

The anti-bullying legislation has also been criticized for involving the state in what should be a local issue.

The Texas Eagle Forum, the conservative organization that lobbies for self-government and less government involvement, said the issue does not necessitate legal involvement.
 On its website, the group encouraged Texans to ask their legislators to oppose the bill because “bullying is best handled at the local level by parents and local school authorities.”

In fact, the Pflugerville district has already been recognized for its anti-bullying efforts. Its high school hosts a student-run event called Ally Night, designed to raise awareness and promote respect for individual differences, that brings together students and the community to discourage bullying and celebrate inclusion. This year’s event, held in October, was one step in the district’s earning a No Place for Hate designation, an Anti-Defamation League program that aims to create an inclusive school environment.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, hundreds of school campuses throughout Texas, including many in the Houston, Austin and El Paso areas, have embraced the initiative.

“Ally Night is important because we need to make sure everyone in the school and in the Pflugerville community is aware there is an open, supportive environment,” said Diem-Nhi Tran, a Pflugerville High School senior and the student government president. “No one should feel alone here.”


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James McDonald

It protects a student from other students but what about protection from faculty?


Staci Burch

Yeah….my niece constantly gets bullied by the teachers and made fun of….then the kids start in on her…about sick of it and gonna handle it myself!


Jason

To whom it may concern,

My was a victim of a malicious and cruel prank where students from his school posted a picture and quote on I-Funny.com and has now been exposed on Facebook and Twitter to where everyone can view it. Because of this outrageous act of intentional infliction toward my son has now caused emotional distress. Furthermore, we believe it involves students that are a part of the School High Baseball Team.

Respectfully,
Jason


Kathryn Corkren

What about Adult bullying? It happens and at an even more advanced level of manipulation.


Ivonne

Pflugerville isd claims to be very anti bullying but in reality my son has been bullied for the past 21/2 years and the school has done nothing to stop it. I’ve talked to everyone but no one seems to help. I’m at my whits end…does anyone have any suggestions on how I can make them accountable?


Lee

There are school officials who encourage bullying in small schools. Small town schools need to rotate faculty more often so there is less of a chance of favoritism and bullying. I hated my school for allowing it to happen.


DeAnna Garrard Coey

Unfortunately these programs are more harmful than helpful. My son has been bullied since 5th grade and for the first time in his life he stood up to one of them 2 weeks ago. He got in a fight on campus after the other boy tackled him and attempted to hit him. Tyler, my son, was able to get the upper hand (never threw a punch) and a teacher broke up the fight. By the way, he’s in 11th grade now. After 6 years, he finally stands up to someone, and what does the school do…they give him 3 days OSS and 5 days ISS. Mandatory punishment for fighting on campus. I have, since 5th grade, talked to teachers, coaches, principles, and administrators and no one stepped in at any point to help my son!
“Boys will be boys,” that what I heard over and over. These programs make it harder for the bullied to stand up for themselves and why bullied children end up doing something drastic to get their side heard. What happened to intelligent thought where our school staff could use intellectual interpretation to handle disciplinary issues? Worthless, completely worthless


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Aryn De La Garza

i am what you would call a “cyber bully” victim. When i finally rported the incedent to my school, and ointed out a couple girls involved, they did absolutely nothing. Not all schools support this law and according to some parents neither do they. Some of them have even stated “we need bullies, it helps our children get stronger and teaches them to stand for themselves.” I disagree, some children take their own lives because of bullying and their parents did absoluetly nothing to prevent it. As of my mother, when i told her it didn’t seem to matter to her. My point being in this they need to enforce this law a little more than what they are, nobody is taking it seriously, especially the bullies themselves.


Staci dugan

My daughter is getting bullied and they do not want do anything about it. I have been up at the school and tell me to talk to the parents .


Outraged Parent

Pflugerville Middle has the most worthless faculty. They claim they will get to the bottom of the bullying issues my child is having. And now several principles have claimed my child is lying or making a bigger deal out of it!! What kind of response is that???!! Something has got to be done!!


Olga Hankins

My grandson is in private school and is the same thing. They talk, talk and talk, but do nothing. His jaw was displaced by one of the kids that bullies him, and nothing was done. We are about to sue, the school and the parents, and press charges. What else can you do? His grades have gone down, and every nite and morning he has a meltdown, nausea and diarrhea


Laura Oldham

My daughter, Brooke, has been the victim of intense harassment and a victim of vicious lies.I recently found a letter instructing her to kill her self.We have tried to talk to the school, and the parents. We even moved her classes around. The biggest problem in trying to control this is that the girls father is a cop with a mean streak. The wife is a hard core alcoholic so counseling is out of the question. My fear is that one day a child may take her life .We recently found out that this problem has existed before my child came into the picture. We have tried to show compassion for the girl, but it is clearly waisted. Please help us, if not only for ours then for the future victims.


Vicky Smith

My cousin was bullied to the point she couldn’t take it and committed suicide in Austin on April 25, 2014. This HAS to stop. There is no need for it. Kids need to know that they have a safe haven to go to that will offer a solution to bullying. I have friends now that their kids are being bullied right now.
The schools are scared of the parents now a days. ACTION needs to be taken against the bully to show other bully’s that there is NO TOLERANCE!