Delaware lawmakers try to improve anti-bullying law

Delaware lawmakers moved one step closer to stop bullying and improve intervention methods in schools.

The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, would provide children opportunities to reform as an alternative to entering the juvenile justice system. The House voted unanimously with two representatives absent.

“Bullying is going on a long time and each act that’s considered bullying may be at the hand of some discretion.  Because sometimes young people may be young people and the way the law is currently set up certain things are mandated. And I see that as a problem,” said State Rep. Charles Potter, D-Wilmington, one of the bill’s co-sponsors of the bill.

The legislation would inform parents of intervention options provided by the Department of Justice’s School Ombudsperson, who would act as a mediator between the families of the victim and the aggressor, and have the authority to intervene in incidents of criminal activity and non-criminal bullying.

The bill also would allow schools and victims’ families’ discretion whether to report misdemeanor assault incidents to law enforcement, and eliminate the requirement all cases go through the criminal justice system. The child who initiated the bullying can then receive bullying counseling and have the opportunity to improve themselves.  If the victim’s families still feel they’re not receiving the justice they deserve they can take it further.

The legislation also ensures that parents of students involved in bullying incidents are informed those occurrences. These incidents are reported to the Department of Education and parents are alerted when the reports are prepared.

A House amendment introduced last week would require the Department of Education to compile more detailed information about the types of incidents that occur, so the state can determine the specific forms of incidents and injuries resulting from misdemeanor assaults in schools reported to police agencies.

The original legislation passed unanimously in the Senate in April, but since the amendment was added it must now go back to the Senate for a final vote before it can be signed by Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware. 

Conversation around the need for bullying intervention has been sparked by recent tragedy after Howard High School student Amy Joyner Francis died after she was seriously assaulted in the school’s bathroom. Three female students were arrested and face various charges for the incident. Henry’s legislation, however, was introduced more than a month before the attack.

Potter said each case should be treated differently, depending on the details of the incident and the type of bullying that occurred.

“I think it could prevent a child from constantly being mandated to a judiciary system that isn’t necessary,” he said of the bill. “Every child is not a hard core bully, do you have some, yes? But let’s take a look at it and make the right decision.” 

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