New anti-bullying legislation popping up around the country may need retooling, new reports show.
The nationwide crackdown on bullying in the wake of highly publicized suicides like Massachusetts student Phoebe Prince and Florida's Jeffrey Johnston, have inspired a series of state laws mandating that instances of verbal, physical and cyber harassment be taken more seriously by educators. The new rules state that schools must not only directly address acts bullying, but report incidents to districts so accurate numbers can be gauged. In both states, complaints are logged based upon the affected students age, race, color, gender and sexual orientation.
Florida instated its anti-bullying law, the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act known simply as “Jeff's Law”, two years ago. Since then, the state's 67 districts have reported wildly divergent numbers related to instances of bullying: Nine districts reported zero cases of bullying over the last two years, while the Palm Beach County School District reported nearly 4,000, The Tampa Tribune reports.
The story is similar in Massachusetts. In the year since its anti-bullying law was put in place, the Associated Press reported that:
Some districts, including Boston, did not know how many complaints were lodged because the cases were handled by each school rather than the central office.
Debbie Johnston, mother of Jeffrey Johnston and a Florida school teacher, lodged a similar complaint against her own state, asserting that leaving reporting instances of bullying up to the individual districts rather than opening state investigations prevented serious action from being taken against aggressors.
“[The schools are] playing games with the law and they're playing games with kids' lives,” Johnston told The Tampa Tribune.
The increasing focus on cyberbullying has also become controversial, raising questions on whether a school is responsible for what happens beyond school grounds.
“I have parents who thank me for getting involved,” Mike Rafferty, a middle school principal from Connecticut told The New York Times, “and parents who say, ‘It didn’t happen on school property, stay out of my life.’ ”
Watchdog organization Bully Police reports that 47 states have passed anti-bullying laws so far. The three exclusions are Michigan, Montana and South Dakota.