State Rep. Frank Burns unveiled a pair of bills Wednesday that would hold parents accountable for a child’s repeated bullying and require schools to more effectively track, investigate and report bullying and other cyberbullying incidents.
In a press release, Burns said he formally introduced both bills on National Stop Bullying day to highlight “the need for students, parents and school officials to work together to eliminate bullying.”
“Schools should be places of learning, not places of fear,” Burns said. “The only way we can put an end to this scourge is to work together. These measures will make our schools safer places for our kids and put the focus where it needs to be – on learning.”
Burns said House Bill 1936 would clearly outline the role of parents in preventing and remedying bullying and hold them accountable if their child repeatedly bullies others. The bill establishes a three-step system of parental notification and participation following a bullying event.
After the first verified bullying report, parents of all students would be notified of the incident and told what action the school took. After a second incident, parents would be required to take a class on bullying and would be asked to attend a bullying resolution conference to devise a plan to address the bullying behavior.
Upon a third or subsequent incident in the same school year, school officials could file a court citation against the parents if the parents failed to uphold their responsibilities under the bullying resolution plan. Parents could face fines of up to $750 and/or community service for repeated acts of bullying.
“Parents are a critical influence in their children’s lives, and they need to play a more active role in stopping kids’ bad behavior,” Burns said. “Bullying is dangerous and distracting, and when left unaddressed, it can quickly escalate from taunts and cruel online posts to physical assault and – in extreme cases – suicide.”
House Bill 1935, titled the Pennsylvania Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, clearly spells out the rights of students, parents and schools as they relate to bullying.
The measure requires schools to designate an anti-bullying specialist to track, investigate and follow up on reports of bullying and cyberbullying.
It also lays out the detailed information that schools must send monthly to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for each verified incident of bullying or cyberbullying.
Both bills include an enhanced definition of bullying to clearly differentiate between joking around and true bullying by focusing on words and actions that are motivated by a students’ distinguishing characteristics, such as race, religion, gender or disability. It also includes retaliation for reporting bullying as an act of bullying itself.
“Too often bullying is underreported and unaddressed in any meaningful way,” Burns said. “Schools need the right tools to identify and track bullying incidents – from a clearer definition to more statistical evidence that can help administrators hone in on when and where bullying is most likely to occur in their schools.”
Burns previously announced a pilot program with the Penn Cambria School District. The district will use software from HIBSter, a Johnstown-based software company, to track, analyze and report bullying incidents. The company has provided their service for free for a year.
Burns is also a sponsor of a House resolution designating October as “Bullying Prevention Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania.