Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Originally posted here.
LAKELAND, FL: The State of Florida has one of the best written and most comprehensive anti-bullying laws in the nation. In 2008, Florida’s legislature unanimously passed the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” (Fl. Stat. section 1006.147), and it was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 10, 2008.
Named after bully victim Jeffrey Johnston, the law requires every Florida school to develop anti-bullying policies that include punishment and counseling for students who bully their peers. In 2005, Jeffrey killed himself after enduring three years of bullying via the internet and phone by a classmate. After his death, Jeffrey’s mother Debbie, herself a Florida elementary school teacher, became a strong advocate for state legislation to prohibit bullying and cyber-bullying under Florida law. She led an effort spanning three years to get anti-bullying legislation passed in Florida.
In a further effort to call attention to bullying being escalated by electronic devices, earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 609), expanding the scope of the law to include “cyberbullying”. Under the July 1st, revisions, school administrators now have the authority to reach beyond school grounds. If cyberbullying “substantially” interferes with or disrupts the educational process, administrators may now regulate and punish it — even when it originates on a computer or device off campus.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, sponsored the legislation. Sen. Bullard was motivated by how technology can be used to spread hateful and damaging messages, as well as embarrassing photos and images. Bullard has seen students’ reputations and self-esteem suffer when nude photos circulate, and he said there is a need to address the new dynamic of bullying. “You want something that is broad enough to deal with those technologies, and I think the bill does that,” he said.
Although Florida’s anti-bullying law is very well-written and a tremendous amount of legislative and policy-making effort has been put forth to try and create a safe learning environment, last week’s suicide death of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick is proof our schools need help.
Rebecca is said to have been ‘absolutely terrorized’ by the other girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death.
Like many other students, Rebecca faced daily and repeat abuse by her peers who used electronic devices to inflict emotional torment and mental abuse.
In Connecticut, 15-year-old Bart Palosz killed himself with a shotgun after the first day of his sophomore year at Greenwich High School. Those who knew him said he endured years of being bullied by peers, including an incident where his head was bashed against a locker, and that the administration did nothing to stop it.
As a volunteer blogger for ISEPP, I have collected a lot of information on cases of bullying, cyberbullying and information on bullying prevention. I appreciate the fact many of the professional members involved in ISEPP are actively involved in research and the implementation of bullying prevention programs in our schools.
As a school volunteer, I actively engage in proactive bullying prevention efforts at our local schools. Considering the liability created by the anti-bullying law, I think it is critical for our schools to have outside support for bullying prevention programs. The program I am involved in promotes team building skills as a bullying prevention tool. It is helpful to establish solid mentoring relationships with at-risk students and the It Takes a Team project has been recognized as providing a universal message.