Strama Takes Anti-Bullying Laws to the Next Level

Bills address cyber-bullying and campus removals

Rep. Mark Strama
Rep. Mark Strama (by Travis County Democratic Party)

For the national press it seems to be a flavor-of-the-week kind of fling, but Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is more committed: He’s been wooing anti-bullying legislation since the last Texas State Legislative session.

"It was important last session and since last session we’ve seen increasing public reports of bullying and suicides caused by bullying," Strama said. "And often times the bullying that is causing these tragedies is online, and that’s bullying these schools are not well-equipped to deal with."

Now, teamed up with Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Strama has pre-filed an anti-bullying bill. Strama's version, House Bill 224 they contain a bit more than "no pushing and shoving," with new policies such as giving teachers and administrators the authority to reprimand and punish students for off-campus bullying, like that done via the Internet or cell phones.

Nicky Colaco, a public policy manager at Facebook, wrote in an e-mail, "Senator Davis and Representative Strama are respected leaders on issues surrounding technology and education, and in reviewing their anti-bullying legislation we were pleased to see that the bill facilitates the strong involvement of educators and administrators."

Critics, however, are concerned about the hard line the bills take in removing bullies – not just from the classroom, but from the entire campus.

"We have concerns that schools should be equipped with tools to help solve problems. We want to be creating good healthy, productive school communities," said Eileen Garcia, CEO of nonpartisan child advocacy organization Texans Care for Children. "Students who make errors in judgment are redirected so that they can be better community members. Make sure they’re safe and give children a second chance to constructively redirect behaviors."

Strama argued that these bills simply empower the school district, leaving how they handle students and individual circumstances at each school’s discretion.

"Right now, school districts don’t have the authority to remove the bully; they only have the authority to remove the target of the bully. That’s why we need the bill," he said. "The bill gives them the authority to do it; how they do it is up to them. The law can give school districts the authority and the school districts have to exercise that authority vigilantly and responsibly to get the maximum benefit of the law.”

Texans Care for Children instead advocates a more consistent discipline system. One example is the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support system, which is already being used and finding success in many Austin Independent School District schools.

"It’s a model for making sure that campus-wide all folks who are involved in educating kids are holding kids to the same expectations," said Garcia, adding that the program is recognized by the federal government and the Texas Education Agency. "It’s a way of making sure all kids understand what expectations exist for their behavior, a way of moving beyond punishment, shaming and ad hoc punishment."

The bill also requires that parents be notified of a bullying incident within 48 hours, allows for training of administrators and teachers, and demands more stringent collection and reporting of data on bullying incidents.

"They cannot regulate all the hatred that occurs off campus, but with this law, they have the authority to report online behavior that is creating an intimidating environment on campus," Strama said. "It does not have to occur on campus to have consequences on campus."

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Mark Strama, Legislature, AISD, Texans Care for Children, Bullying, bills, Wendy Davis

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