Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SAFE SCHOOLS; Students Worry Policy Won't Prevent Bullying Lawmakers Are Close to Passing an Anti-Harassment Bill

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SAFE SCHOOLS; Students Worry Policy Won't Prevent Bullying Lawmakers Are Close to Passing an Anti-Harassment Bill

Article excerpt


In June 2005, 15-year-old Cape Coral resident Jeff Johnston hanged himself, leaving a note that said he "would never get over the eighth grade."

Hank Costen, a Clay County resident whose family lived next door to Johnston's family then, described the young man in an e-mail as a "somewhat quiet and reserved" but "brilliant" youngster who never talked about his troubles and "must have internalized everything."

What he had internalized was relentless bullying by a schoolmate that drove him to take his own life.

Last week the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill named the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, aimed at preventing that kind of school bullying.

School districts would be required to have policies to prohibit the bullying or harassment of any public school student or employee during school or school-sponsored activities. They also would be required to report instances to appropriate law enforcement agencies and the parents of both the bully and the victim.

The bill, which had already unanimously passed in the state House, now goes to Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to sign it into law.

Following the recommendation of the Florida Department of Education, which had anticipated the bill's eventual passage, Duval County has already made bullying and harassment a significant offense against the school conduct code, said Kathy Bowles, the school system's supervisor for Safe and Healthy Schools.

Procedures for enforcing the policy and training teachers and administrators on how to enforce the policy will probably be the next step, she said.


Students at Jacksonville's Lake Shore Middle School said Friday they've seen bullying take place, with the victims usually smaller, quieter, weaker kids.

"You see someone pushing somebody else around," said Courtney Maple, 15.

Her biggest concern, she said, is that a victim of bullying could be pushed so far as to retaliate violently. The Columbine school massacre has been cited as an example of victims wreaking indiscriminate vengeance.

But while students see bullying, most of it takes place out of the sight of teachers and administrators, said Kyle Clark, 14, who admitted he'd be unlikely to go to a teacher or school official to complain about bullying.

Eboni Pierce, 13, agreed, saying she couldn't seeing herself reporting bullying even though "it would be the right thing to do."

Meanwhile the victims are not likely to say anything either, said Sean Baker, 14.

"Kids are afraid to tell the teachers because if the word gets out, it could create even more problems on the street," he said.

Still, he said the anti-bullying bill is a step in the right direction that could make "schools a lot safer."

For a bill that passed both legislative bodies unanimously, it took a long time to win approval. …

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