House passes bill against bullying, harassment

Angela Hoover

Toilet bowl swirlies and pummelings, wedgies and duels at the flagpole – these are just facts of life at school. But proposed legislation aims to eliminate bullying.

House Bill 276, also known as the Bullying Bill, passed through the Ohio House of Representatives with a 93 to four vote Jan. 25 and is now at the Senate’s Education Committee.

If approved, the state statute will ensure all Ohio school districts adopt policies to identify and stop harassment, intimidation and bullying at schools and school-sponsored activities. Republican Sen. Joy Padgett said it is expected to pass.

The bill is not enumerated to classify groups or define discriminatory or harassing behaviors, nor does it quantify such subjective terms as “sufficiently sever, persistent or pervasive.” Instead, the bill will allow each local school district to devise its own definitions.

Although there will be changes made to the language of the bill, Padgett does not anticipate these points to be made more clear at the Senate level.


• any intentional written, verbal or physical act from one student to another.

• the act(s) must cause mental or physical harm.

• and it must be considered severe, persistent or pervasive.

• which in turn causes the victim to feel intimidated, threatened to the point that the student does not feel comfortable at school

The bill only requires school districts have a policiy in place. Local school districts will determine what is “severe,” “persistent” and “pervasive.”

Source: House Bill 276

In response to gay activist group Equality Ohio’s hearing testimony urging more clear language protecting homosexual youth, bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens and other representatives made a motion to add such classifications as sexual orientation and gender identity.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Larry Flowers, opposed such enumeration. The bill currently reads, “A disciplinary procedure for any student guilty of harassment, intimidation or bullying, which shall not infringe on any student’s rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, the exercise of religion, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government.

Can such a law curtail bullying?

“You can loose your license for driving at excessive speeds,” said Roger Sidoti, principal for Theodore Roosevelt High School. “But does this law stop people from speeding?”

The wide range of bullying makes it difficult to define, Sidoti said. Furthermore, there are already laws that deal with harassment.

Oftentimes, threats occur outside of school and trickle into the school environment, Sidoti said.

“The Internet is used to threaten and bully,” Sidoti said. “How does a school deal with that? What role does the school have to police what happens outside of school?”

Roosevelt High School already has a harassment and bullying policy in place that reads almost verbatim to the bill as approved by the House. More than laws, however, Sidoti said he believes developing a culture of constant communication is more effective.

“All the types of prejudice you find in the real world you find in a high school because we’re a cross sample of the real world,” Sidoti said.

Tyler Gray, junior at Roosevelt High, said he has not seen much bullying in years at school.

“I don’t think bullying is really a big deal,” Gray said. “There are scuffs between two students, but just that one bully against the school as depicted in movies just isn’t the case anymore.”

Sidoti also doesn’t see a need for a law since most schools, all in Portage County, already have policies in place.

“But if it helps parents feel better, I’m all for it,” he said.

In February 2004, 15-year-old Benjamin Brewer of Delaware committed suicide. His suicide note mentioned harassment from an older student at Rutherford B. Hayes High School.

His father, David, has been active ever since his son’s death in helping Delaware and other states draft legislation to provide students with the same protection and due process rights afforded to adults. Currently 17 states have anti-bullying laws.

That same spring, Misty Coles of Athens County Head Start, contacted Stewart about sponsoring an anti-bullying bill for Ohio. The two met, and she provided a copy of West Virginia’s statute.

Bullying is a basic factor of life that everyone acknowledges, said Courtney Saunders, Stewart’s legislative aide, but at some school districts it is being ignored more than at others.

“It causes such stress that, at least in one case, led to suicide,” Saunders said.

In addition to protecting students of harassment, it also functions as a whistle-blower act for students reporting the bullying of other students. The bill will also grant civil immunity for liability and lawsuits to teachers and administrators.

Padgett, a Kent State alumna with 20 years public-teaching experience, said parents are always telling her they pull their children out of public schools for safety issues, which include bullying.

ÿKenneth Trump, president of the Cleveland-based consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said he considers these laws unnecessary, unfounded mandates.

The first Education Committee hearing was Tuesday. Padgett, chairwoman for the committee, said she hopes to have the bill on the Senate floor by the end of February. This bill could pass and be enacted by late spring, she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Angela Hoover at [email protected].