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Combatting the Epidemic of Bullying with “Rebecca’s Law”: Florida attorneys attempt to raise the bar on bullying

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Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate

TAMPA FL:  Earlier this week, the law firm of Morgan & Morgan sent out a PR announcing today’s press conference as they move forward with “Rebecca’s Law” Anti-Bullying Legislation. (SB 548: Bullying by Senator David Simmons and HB 451: Bullying by Represenative Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen)

Increasing bullying and school violence has become a focus for the Florida Department of Education, our school districts and mental health professionals.

In Pasco County alone, 14 students ages 12-14 have committed suicide within the past 2.5 years because of bullying, abuse and depression.  Research indicates children who are bullied are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms in early adolescence and many of the school shooters were alleged victims of bullying.

Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, requires school districts to adopt an official policy prohibiting bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, and through school computer networks.

Under the current antibullying law, schools that fail to meet the requirements, risk losing state funding.  In some states, teachers and school employees can now be held criminally liable for turning a blind eye to bullying.

Charlie Crist, Jack Davis, Larcenia Bullard

Named after bully victim Jeffrey Johnston, Florida’s legislature unanimously passed the anti-bullying Act and it was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 10, 2008.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist is currently employed as an attorney at Morgan and Morgan and is involved in fundraising to raise cash as part of his campaign to reclaim the Governor’s Office, this time as a Democrat. The firm recently notified the Polk County School District of their intent to sue over the death of Rebecca Sedwick — who fatally jumped off a tower in an abandoned cement plant last September.

Attorney Matt Morgan told reporters that his firm has “created an entire department” to deal with “nothing but bullying.” He warned parents that if their child is bullying another child, “you may find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit and your personal assets in jeopardy.”

In 2012, a New Jersey school district agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a lawsuit by a middle school student who was paralyzed from the waist down after a bully punched him in the abdomen.  The victim settled out of court for an undisclosed amount with the bully’s family.

Bullying involves a diverse array of contributing factors and sometimes can be complicated by serious psychological issues and medical conditions.  Children with a multitude of disabilities and illnesses, including pediatric cancer, are at a higher risk of becoming victims of bullying.   Many times children who have suffered abuse, trauma, or were victims of bullying themselves exhibit aggressive, bullying behavior.  Some low-income and homeless children become victims of bullying simply because they lack access to clean clothing and personal hygiene items.

The epidemic of bullying in Florida coincides with an economic recession that drastically reduced revenues for our already hard-hit schools.  Many of our Title 1 schools lack basic resources like books and technology in their media center.  Due to cutbacks, many Florida schools were forced to eliminate positions for school media specialists and literacy coaches, as well as programs for art, music and athletics.  Strengthening early verbal skills, engaging children in reading, arts, music and sports help reduce aggressive behavior in children.

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