So here’s a novel way to tackle the pernicious problem of school bullying.
State Rep. Frank Burns, a Democrat from outside Johnstown, Pa., says he wants to reduce incidents of school bullying.
He also wants to hold the grown-ups responsible for not reining in their little Bugs Meanies. And to make sure that happens, he’d slap the parents of habitual bulliers with stiff fines – up to $750 for repeat offenders – and make them perform community service.
(For those not in the know, that’s a reference the Big Bad in the “Encyclopedia Brown” series of youth detective novels written by the late Donald J. Sobol — who was known to drop a very central Pennsylvania Bon-Ton reference or two into his books.)
“Last year, we went to every school in the district and did an anti-bullying pledge,” Burns said of the genesis of the three-bill packagehe’s now shopping to his fellow lawmakers for their support.
During the course of those meetings, Burns said students from across his 72nd District seat told him their own stories of being bullied, and its effect on their young lives.
“These kids were looking to me to come in and help stop bullying,” he said. “I saw the desperation in their eyes, and I realized I had to do more.”
The fines wouldn’t be imposed right away. Rather, they’d be the end product of a process that starts off with schools taking some sort of disciplinary action with the first instance of bullying.
After the second instance, the “parents are brought into the school for a conference. Then an action plan is set forth for school’s responsibility, and what the parents responsibility is,” Burns said. “Parents also required to attend parenting classes set up by the school.”
And if all that doesn’t work and the bullying continues, the “school can file a citation, and the parent can go to court and have their say. A judge will make the determination are they guilty,” Burns said.
Parents could face initial fines of $500, going up to $750 for repeat offenses, Burns’ office said.
With bullying becoming more widespread and inescapable – thanks to the rise of social media – and students’ ostracization often triggering violence in the classroom, Burns wants to head all that off before it gets really bad.
“Back when I went to school, when I came home at end of the day, a bully had no way to contact me,” Burns said. “Now they have 24 hours a day in which they can harass you through Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. That’s considered cyber-bullying. My bill would be triggered if it occurs.”
Cyber-harassment is considered a criminal offense and already punishable under existing state law, he added.
Another bill in Burns’ package, which he hopes to formally introduce in the coming weeks, would create an anonymous reporting system that would allow students, parents, teachers and classmates to anonymously report bullying to school authorities.
It would require school administrators to follow up on such incidents — or face disciplinary action if they do not.
The third would require schools to track bullying incidents and to report that data to the state Department of Education.
The state, in turn, would “post monthly bullying reports online and would tally the data at the end of each year to include annual statistics in the publicly available Safe Schools Reports already posted on the department’s website,” Burns wrote in his co-sponsorship memorandum.
As The Washington Post reported recently, Burns bill has company in other states.
Last October, an anti-bullying law approved by North Tonawanda, N.Y., north of Buffalo, punished parents with $250 fines, 15 days in jail, or both, if their child violates local curfew and bullying ordinances, the newspaper reported, citing the Buffalo News.
And while some are inclined to dismiss it, data shows bullying to be a real problem in American schools.
According a 2011 survey of more than 24 million kids aged 12 to 18 by the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 28 percent of students (more than 6.8 million students) reported some kind of bullying.
That behavior included such emotional bullying as being called names; being made the subject of false rumor; being deliberately excluded from activities. It also included such physical abuse as being physically harmed; being pushed shoved or spit on; having their property destroyed; or being made to do things they did not want to do, the survey found.
The survey also found that bullying behavior cut across races and grades and income levels, with bullying behavior being the most intense in grades 6-8, and then tapering off some by the high school years.
Even still, more than a quarter of high school students reported being the subject of some kind of bullying, the survey found. Bullying was also more prevalent among students whose families were low-income, the survey found.
“This is about keeping kids safe – and setting bullies on the right path and getting parents involved,” Burns said. “To me that’s a win/win.”