New legislation addresses school bullying

DOVER — New legislation aimed at reducing the number of children injected into the criminal justice system while improving the state’s ability to deal with school bullying incidents was introduced in the General Assembly Thursday.

It was authored by Attorney General Matt Denn with Senators Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, and Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, and Representatives Charles Potter Jr., D-Wilmington, and Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley..

The legislation, Senate Bill 207, which attracted bi-partisan support, contains two provisions:

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• It would eliminate the requirement that schools currently have to report to police all fights between students that result in a non-serious injury.

Schools, students and students’ parents still would be permitted to report these incidents if they choose to do so.

Schools still would be required to report these incidents to the Department of Education. But they will not be compelled to involve the criminal justice system.

• It will require schools to inform parents of students who are victims of bullying of the availability of the Attorney General’s Office to intervene in their child’s case if the case is not being addressed satisfactorily by their school.

“Last year, 130 students in our public schools were sent to the police for getting into school fights with other students that did not result in serious injuries,” said Attorney General Denn. “The schools had no choice under current law but to involve the police.

“Some of those students probably should have been dealt with by the police, but some should not. Schools and parents should be able to use their common sense about which school fights are criminal matters and which should be dealt with by the school.

“The criminal justice system is not a good place for kids, and while sometimes it is necessary, we should be thoughtful about when we use it.”

At the same time that the legislation seeks to limit students’ exposure to the criminal justice system, it also seeks to provide better advocacy for students who are the victims of school bullying. The bill would require schools to inform the parents of students who are the victims of bullying and their parents of the availability of an advocate from the Attorney General’s office.

“Too many victims of bullying feel that their concerns are not heard by their schools,” Mr. Denn said. “Most students don’t know that our office has a full time school ombudsman who can step in and advocate for bullying victims. This bill will require schools to notify the parents of bullying victims that this help is available.”

Added Sen. Pettyjohn: “I believe this piece of legislation will bring greater accountability to our school system, sending a clear message that bullying will not be tolerated and that our children’s education will always be at the forefront.”

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