After a rash of widely publicized suicides by youths who were victims of bullying, the Texas Legislature next year will consider redefining how schools tackle the problem.
At least seven bills related to bullying have been filed in advance of next year’s legislative session.
The issue has gained traction nationally after several suicides by youths who were alleged to have been bullied for being gay, including Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself with his father’s handgun, and Tyler Clementi, 18, a Rutgers University student who jumped off a bridge. Cases of cyberbullying — harassment over the Internet or via mobile devices — are also drawing concern.
Under state law, schools must prohibit bullying in their student code of conduct, but critics say more needs to be done. Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, which focuses on gay, lesbian and transgender issues, said anti-bullying measures will be a priority next year.
“It’s something we’re pursuing as a child welfare issue,” Smith said. “Bullying is not a playground skirmish.” The most wide-ranging proposal so far comes from state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. They have filed nearly identical bills similar to one Strama proposed in 2009 that ran out of time before it could get a vote in the House.
“I think frankly there will be more support in the coming session because the issue has received even more attention in the intervening year and a half,” Strama said.
Davis and Strama want to require school districts to develop a strategy to combat bullying and cyberbullying, including training school employees on the issue and launching an educational program geared toward students and parents.
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