House approves ‘bully’ bill

Published 9:54 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

School bullies have always singled out those who are different from themselves. Now a piece of state legislation supported by local representatives is targeting bullies.

The School Violence Prevention Act awaits Gov. Bev Perdue’s signature into law and may reinforce what school districts in the Roanoke-Chowan area have in place to protect students against bullies.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed The School Violence Prevention Act which is intended to protect students who are bullied for reasons including race, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities.

Local House Representatives Annie Mobley (D-5th) and Michael Wray (D-27th) are listed as co-sponsors for the bill and voted in favor of the legislation.

The bill barely passed by a 58-57 margin, which included a vote by House Speaker Joe Hackney to break a tie. The Senate passed the bill last month.

The School Violence Prevention Act says that bullying includes acts a reasonable person would perceive as being motivated by race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability or association with a person who has or is perceived to have any of those characteristics.

The bill requires teachers, students and volunteers to report incidents of harassment and leaves the details of reporting procedures and punishment up to the school districts.

Rep. Mobley said she hoped Perdue would sign the bill into law.

“I think it’s a good deal,” she said in a telephone interview. “I certainly don’t condone bullying regardless of who it is.”

Mobley noted the opposition to the bill, which mostly came from her House Republican counterparts who argued the bill should include reprimands for the harassers as well as teachers and administrators who allow it to happen.

“When it comes to the safety of children, we need to forget about party lines,” Mobley concluded.

Rep. Wray said North Carolina is one of the few states in the country that did not have a statewide bullying policy and that needed to change.

“In my mind, this policy is strictly about protecting children, all kinds of children, and doing so in the best, most effective way possible,” he wrote in an email to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

He also addressed those who opposed the bill.

“Some opponents of the bill tried to argue that it was about something more, that by describing which groups of children tend to be bullied more often we were creating special protected classes,” he said. “That is simply not true. I’m glad that most of us in the House of Representatives saw that and that we did the right thing to help keep our children safe.”

While the representatives noted the need for the bill, local administrators say the piece of legislation supports school districts’ efforts all ready in place to deal with bullying.

The Department of Public Instruction requires all school districts in the state to have a policy against harassment and bullying.

Echoing that fact, both Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Basham and Bertie County Schools Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Perry said their districts have those policies in place.

Perry noted the pressure students are faced with when speaking against their peers.

“I think the bill is a step in the right direction, but kids need to be free to come forward and tell what they know,” said Perry. He added another factor to be reckoned with is gang activity and that area that needs to be strengthened in order for the legislation to “have teeth.”

Dr. Basham said while the bill is specific in its definitions of bullying, the verbiage is similar to what is implemented in Hertford County Schools.

“That’s not a negative toward it,” he said. “It gives the same authority to deal with it.”

Basham also spoke about the peer pressure that students face when witnessing harassment and bullying.

“It’s hard to tell on peers and friends,” he said. “I think kids are put in a hard place sometimes.”

In conclusion, Basham said imposing policies and laws is the key.

“Laws have to be enforced,” he said. “I think enforcement is important.”

A message was left by the News-Herald for Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy for comment on this story. A response was not received as of press time.