From the Miami Herald:
For the last several years, proponents of anti-bullying legislation have fought for a state law that would prohibit harassment of students. Every year, the bills failed.
But on Wednesday, supporters were cheering after the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act unanimously passed the Florida Senate; it previously got unanimous support in the House of Representatives. Next stop: Gov. Charlie Crist, who told reporters he would probably sign it into law.
”I’m against bullying, too,” he said.
Named after a Cape Coral teen who committed suicide in 2005 after being bullied, the measure would require school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and harassment.
DEAD TEEN’S MOTHER
Debbie Johnston, Jeffrey’s mother, wiped tears from her eyes as she sat in the Senate gallery and watched the vote. This was her third session working to get the bill passed. ”We’re going to keep working to make sure that no child has to stay home because they’re afraid of what’s going to happen at school or at the bus stop,” she said. “And no teacher will have to sit there and watch a child bullied to death without being able to do anything about it. Now we can do something and we will.”
The law, which also prohibits cyber-bullying — harassing or threatening another using the Internet — would require districts to have a process for reporting and investigating bullying claims. It also mandates counseling for bullies and victims.
If Crist signs the bill, Florida would become the 36th state in the nation with a law prohibiting bullying and harassment [EMPHASIS ADDED], according to anti-bullying organization Bully Police USA. The group rates states on its website, www.bullypolice.org, and has given Florida an F because it didn’t have a law in place.
Brenda High, the organization’s founder and mother of a teen who committed suicide in 1998 after being bullied, said the new law has potential to rate A++.
”All over the country, I get e-mails from parents who complain their kids have been assaulted and bullied and harassed,” she said. The law “tells the schools that they can’t just allow this type of garbage to go on.”
”This is a win for kids,” said David Barkey, southern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. “Unfortunately, bullying is epidemic in our schools. Cyber-bullying is growing exponentially. This is a real major step in trying to counter bullying in our schools, but of course, a law is only as good as it’s enforced.”
Although the bill does not specify categories of students, legislators clarified that the law would prohibit harassment targeted at specific characteristics, such as disability, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. ”The intent of this legislation is to protect all children from all types of bullying,” said Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican and the bill’s Senate sponsor.
Said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of gay-rights group Equality Florida: “We believe that the sponsors have put districts on notice that they have to include protections for gay and transgendered students or they’re breaking the law.”
Under the law, each of the state’s 67 districts must adopt a policy that complies with the new requirements by Dec. 1. If they don’t comply, districts could lose a portion of the state’s nearly $77 million for ”safe schools” programs.
Broward and Miami-Dade get about $18.5 million combined from that pot.
Officials with both districts have said they expect to be in compliance by then. Board members in Miami-Dade approved a new anti-bullying policy two years ago. A beefed-up policy in Broward that was created around the proposed law will go to board members for discussion this month.