Local delegates take hard line against bullying


Two local state delegates want to tackle bullying, first by criminalizing the age-old bane of the schoolyard and then by holding public schools accountable for dealing with the practice. 
Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) introduced a bill – HB 1576 Wednesday making bullying a class one misdemeanor under Virginia law, punishable by a year in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. Victims also could sue their bullies under the proposed law, he said. 
In a conference call announcing the legislation, Ebbin said the suicide of York County 16-year-old Christian Taylor earlier this year inspired his push to bring harsher penalties against bullies. 
Del. David Englin (D-45) has simultaneously sponsored House Bill 1575, which requires public school divisions to establish character education programs, train teachers in handling bullying, separate the victim from the bully and report any instances of bullying.
Currently, there is nothing in the Virginia code that requires administrators to be responsible for implementing local (anti-bullying) policies, Englin said. This new law would hold administrators accountable. No child in Virginia should be afraid to go to school and every child has a right to a safe learning environment.
While the Virginia General Assembly has addressed bullying in the past, the new bills would put teeth into existing legislation, Ebbin said. 
Ebbins bill defines bullying as recklessly or intentionally endangering the health and safety of a student over time, physically or through intimidation in person or via some form of communication technology resulting in property or bodily harm.
Though bullying has long been the scourge of students, parents, teachers and administrators, the issue has garnered more attention after a series of high profile deaths. 
The anniversary of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince is quickly approaching. Prince took her life January 14 after allegedly being bullied by her South Hadley classmates. In September, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly taped and broadcast a sexual encounter online. 
Closer to home, Taylors death in May prompted Ebbins anti-bullying campaign, though he has not been in contact with Taylors family.  
According to Ebbin, 35 states have crafted laws addressing cyber bullying while a further 47 including Virginia have passed legislation regarding bullying in some way. 
No student in Virginia should be afraid to attend school, he said.