Lawmakers pre-file bill to combat bullying

Published 4:02 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A bill sponsored by two local legislators would allow parents whose children have been bullied to transfer to a different school in the same system.

A similar bill was introduced by Rep. Kurt Wallace (R-Maplesville) and Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) during the last state legislative session but failed to gain traction.

The bill was named after Alex Moore, a Jemison High School student who committed suicide in May 2010, after being bullied at school, classmates said.

“We got involved because of the Alex Moore case,” Ward said.

Chilton County Schools, along with every other state system, was required to draft an anti-harassment policy before the beginning of last year.

The policy defines unacceptable behavior and the process of disciplining children who violate the policy. Also, the last page in the system’s Student/Parent Information Guide is a form to file a “harassment report.”

“Obviously, they should go to an adult they trust,” Chilton County School Superintendent Dave Hayden said. “Then, the principal will look into it and decide on the best option. You let the offender know the behavior is unacceptable, and then you can look at separating their seating, limiting contact, then maybe in-school suspension and, finally, maybe suspension.”

County educators have also completed several workshops on bullying, one held by the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department and another on cyber bullying.

“The adults—parents, teachers, administrators—need to be continually vigilant,” Hayden said. “As long as the adults are vigilant, you can keep it to a minimum.”

But Wallace and Ward said they wanted to go further.

The most significant change the bill would entail is allowing children determined to be the victims of bullying to transfer to another school in the same school system.

“This bill gives parents more rights than they had before,” Ward said.

The lawmakers said they intentionally left out of the bill any language that would attempt to define bullying.

“We’re not trying to get in and micromanage because we’re not educators; we’re not in schools,” Ward said. “You can never legislate away bullying, and we’re not trying to do that.”

The bill would place on teachers an obligation to report bullying to school administration while also allowing schools to expand their definition of bullying to account for cyber bullying, which is prolonged harassment through the Internet, including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“In the future, as things change, the law can change too,” Wallace said.

Finally, the bill provides a solution in the form of a transfer—either the child being bullied or the one doing the bullying.

“If your child is a bully, and there’s a pattern of behavior, you’ve got to move that child,” Ward said.

Wallace pre-filed the bill in the state House of Representatives, and Ward did the same in the state Senate. The bill will be considered when the Legislature reconvenes in early 2012.