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Texas House passes bill to help keep students from being bullied

05/05/2011 12:26 AM

05/14/2011 8:49 PM

AUSTIN -- The Texas House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that cracks down on school bullies by defining bullying and requiring school districts to help prevent it, to assist students who are targeted and to protect whistle-blowers who tell about it.

"Parents deserve to know that their children are within safe walls at school," said Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, who collaborated on the bill with members of the House Public Education Committee.

"With the advancement of technology, it is increasingly important to send a message that bullying is unacceptable."

The House approved the measure 94-41 without discussion. It now heads to the Senate.

"I am very concerned about bullying in our schools, particularly cyberbullying," said Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, another committee member who worked on the bill. It "will provide new tools to the school districts to address this critical issue for our children."

The bill defines bullying and includes cyberbullying in the definition. It requires districts to post formal policies on bullying; requires schools to teach staff how to recognize and react to bullying; lets officials protect people who report bullying; and lets them transfer bullies to different schools or classrooms.

Equality Texas, a group lobbying the Legislature on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, made the bill its top priority this year.

The federal government has insisted that school districts nationwide have policies to protect students against bullying or face the loss of federal education funds.

In the Fort Worth school district, where an anti-bullying task force is at work, officials praised passage of the bill.

"It affirms our efforts here in the district," said Kathryn Everest, director of guidance and counseling. "This legislation gives great credence to the depth of what FWISD has in place for our students."

Critics say that the measure imposes unnecessary requirements on districts and that local officials should determine how to address bullying.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, voted against the bill.

"There's no question bullying is a problem," he said. "I just have confidence in school districts to handle it. I didn't think we needed to make it state law."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

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