Jaheem Herrera was a fifth grader at DeKalb County’s Dunaire Elementary School who committed suicide in 2009 after repeated incidents of school bullying.
In the wake of this tragedy, I was approached by concerned DeKalb citizens, including some of my own constituents, to look into the adequacy of Georgia’s anti-bullying statute. I was dismayed at what I found and became determined to fix it.
The law that was on the books in 2009 did not even cover the Jaheem Herrera situation because it applied only to grades 6 through 12. The old law included a virtually useless definition of “bullying.” Overall, Georgia’s anti-bullying statute was bare bones and inadequate.
43 states have anti-bullying laws. Until this year, Georgia’s law was the oldest of the 43. A lot of states had come up with better ways to address the issue after Georgia initially enacted its statute.
My first attempt at anti-bullying legislation was introduced as House Bill 927 (click for information). The version of HB 927 that finally emerged from a House committee set forth a substantially improved definition of “bullying” that better captured what bullying is, without being overbearing. The bill required local school systems to adopt an age-appropriate range of consequences for bullying incidents in grades K through 12, not just 6 through 12. In addition, for the first time in Georgia law, the bill required that the parents of the students involved on both sides of a bullying incident be notified of the incident.
The bill faced a steep uphill climb in the House of Representatives, but after a couple of close calls in the House, it sailed to passage in the State Senate. Ultimately, the anti-bullying language had to be amended onto another bill that dealt with disruptive behavior on school buses, Senate Bill 250 (click for information), in order to win final approval in the General Assembly. SB 250, including the “Jacobs Amendment” on school bullying, was signed into law by Governor Perdue on May 27, 2010. Click here to see a photograph of the bill signing ceremony.
While the anti-bullying bill was winding its way through the General Assembly, headline-grabbing school bullying problems came to light in Massachusetts, in Texas, and in Murray County, Georgia. These incidents underscored why the legislation was necessary. Even the Savannah Morning News chimed in with an editorial supporting the bill. If you’re interested, you can read the Savannah editorial here.
By August 2011, every local school system in Georgia is required to review and revamp its anti-bullying policy. Parents who are concerned about this issue are encouraged to talk with their local school board members while they are in the process of reviewing and improving the anti-bullying policy in your school district.