By Amy Wenk
A local legislator wants to help parents hear about bullying incidents at school.
State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb), who represents Brookhaven, amended Senate Bill 250 to include anti-bullying provisions before it passed the Georgia House March 30.
“School systems are not routinely reporting bullying incidents to the parents of the students involved,” Jacobs said in a phone interview April 2.
His amendment expands the definition of bullying and requires that school officials report bullying incidents in all grade levels. The legislation also mandates that the state Board of Education by Jan. 1, 2011 provide an anti-bullying policy for local school systems to use as a model.
“If you look at Georgia’s current anti-bullying statue, it is bare bones and inadequate,” Jacobs said.
The current law ignores situations where bullying could occur, he said, and lacks more comprehensive rules used in other states. While state law requires all schools have an anti-bullying policy, it only covers grades six through 12.
The danger of excluding elementary kids was brought to the public’s attention in the recent suicide case of 11-year-old DeKalb County student Jaheem Herrara. It has been reported that teasing in the classroom motivated the fifth grader to take his life, although a county-funded panel concluded many factors were responsible.
“The current statue doesn’t even apply to a bullying situation that arises in fifth grade,” said Jacobs, noting Jaheem’s story inspired him to try to improve the law.
“Since then, there have been other high-profile cases of kids driven to the edge and to suicide as a result of bullying incidents,” he said.
Jacob’s amendment requires an anti-bullying policy for kindergarten through grade 12.
“In doing that, school systems have to come up with an age-appropriate range of consequences,” he said. The legislation also says local school systems must develop a way of notifying parents of both the victim and the bully who are involved in a bullying incident.
“The rest we are leaving up to the control of local school systems,” Jacobs said.
A local school system can choose to develop its own anti-bullying policy or may adopt the state’s policy, Jacobs said.
Jacobs’ legislation passed the Georgia House as an amendment to Senate Bill 250, which prohibits disruptive behavior on school buses. The language in the amendment came from House Bill 927 that did not pass on “Crossover Day,” the deadline for bills to clear out the chamber from which they originated.
SB 250 now goes back before the Senate for vote with the amended language.
“I think it’s a substantial improvement on current law,” Jacobs said. “Forty-one states have anti-bullying statues on the books. Georgia’s is the oldest of the 41 states.”