by Colin Miller
The wave of teen suicides last year was a tragedy for the entire country. Most of the teens who took their own lives were receiving persistent and unrelenting verbal and physical abuse inside and out of school. Among adults, we would call this harassment or assault. Among children, we call it bullying.
Too often in our culture, bullying is trivialized. Bullying is not “character building.” It is isolating, intimidating, and hurting our kids. Tragically, the victim of bullying, after enduring verbal taunting and physical abuse day after day, will take his or her own life, shattering forever the lives of family and friends.
As our children are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, we have to help them. With all of this in mind, State Representative Austin Badon has filed the Safe Schools Bill, House Bill 112 at the State Legislature. It passed through the House Education Committee on May 12 with an eight-to-four vote. This bill, if it becomes law, serves to fill some major gaps in Louisiana’s current, anemic anti-bullying law covering public elementary and secondary schools by more clearly defining the ways in which bullying occurs and listing examples of characteristics among children which could potentially put them at a higher risk for being bullied. Such characteristics include ancestry, race, religion, physical or mental disabilities, and many more. The Safe Schools Bill also unifies and expands the present law to include six parishes that are currently exempt from following a legislative anti-bullying policy.
It is especially important to have the enumerated characteristics in the bill. By listing a sample of those personal characteristics (national origin, disabilities, etc.) that research shows are most likely to become targets of bullying or harassment, we give students facing this bullying the knowledge that they are protected. It also gives school administrators and teachers notice not to let any values or biases keep them from protecting at-risk kids. It is so important to bear in mind that this list of characteristics is not exclusive. Rather, it is a list of examples intended to help administrators and teachers better identify cases of bullying as they occur.
There exist huge variations in the policies and procedures intended to combat bullying among schools and school administrations across Louisiana. The Safe Schools Bill does not usurp the authority of local school administrations. Rather, it creates a much-needed minimum standard which can be built upon to address the unique needs of each school and district. We urge all folks around Louisiana to help protect our children by calling their state representatives and asking them to support the Safe Schools Bill, HB 112 without amendments. Schools should be a safe place to learn and grow.
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