AUSTIN (AP) – Montana Lance was 9 years old when he hanged himself in the nurse’s restroom at his elementary school in Lewisville. His parents say the school did not do enough to protect their son, who had been bullied for years.
Lance’s parents, Jason and Deborah, were among several witnesses who testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Education in support of legislation that would prohibit any form of bullying in Texas schools.
Bullying is the suspected cause of at least four Texas students who have taken their own lives since the 2009 legislative session.
“We need the Legislature to enact a bill this session,” Deborah Lance said. “If we have to wait for the next session, that’s two more years and eight more children’s deaths at the least. These children are dependent on us. Let’s not fail them the way the schools are failing them.”
A bill proposed by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would change the state’s current practice of sending a bullying victim to another school, moving the aggressor elsewhere instead. The legislation also requires school officials to be trained to identify bullying signs and learn effective response methods.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us,” Davis said. “If we see something happening where young people in alarming numbers are taking their own lives, then we must get involved.”
Barbara Paris, a principal in Round Rock ISD testified that many educators feel like they’ve been left empty-handed when it comes to methods of effectively dealing with bullying.
“I felt like I had no backbone at my disposal to deal with cyber bullying,” said Paris, who’s been an educator for more than 30 years. “Kids won’t speak up because they’re afraid nothing will happen when they report bullying. The only way we can change that is if we have a law that backs us.”
The anti-bullying bills before the Senate committee expand the definition of bullying to specifically address electronic methods such as texting and Facebook posts.
“In this day and age, bullying is 24/7,” said Anne Wynne, co-chair of Equality Texas and chair of Atticus Circle. “If somebody does something from home that affects a child’s ability to be safe, our school districts and schools need to be able to address that.”
Manuel Quinto Pozos, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, cited Supreme Court rulings regarding off-campus speech in expressing concern that Davis’ bill would infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech away from school.
“We’re not asking educators to reach outside the classroom and into homes,” Davis responded. “The Internet is creating a whole new dynamic that requires a new solution. If we hide too carefully behind protections of the First Amendment, we’re missing an opportunity to intervene in a way that can save a child’s life.”
Amy and David Truong said their son, Asher Brown, was driven to suicide at age 13 because he was harassed mercilessly in his school. Amy Truong said she had called school officials nearly 30 times to tell them her son was being picked on because of his size and clothing. She said administrators said they were aware of the situation and had it under control.
Amy Truong came home in September of 2010 to find that her son had shot himself.
“Children should not be dying,” she said. “The schools and teachers need tools to be able to reach children in crisis, and that includes the bullies because obviously these children need help as well.”
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