SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers responding to concerns that schoolyard bullying has led to increased suicides and truancy passed a resolution Friday calling attention to the problem.
Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso, who proposed the resolution, estimated that 8 percent of students in elementary through high school skip class at least once a month to dodge bullies.
In supporting the resolution, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina del Rey, said a group of bullies once ordered her autistic son to lick a toilet at his elementary school.
Hueso, of San Diego, said harassment can lead to depression, anxiety and criminal activity. His resolution, which designates March as bullying prevention month, says the harassment comes in verbal, physical, psychological or electronic forms.
“Too many children and families have been adversely affected by the impacts of bullying,” he said.
The resolution’s broad interpretation of bullying prompted opposition from Assemblyman Chris Norby, who said he sympathized with the desire to end harassment but questioned anti-bullying programs. The Republican from Fullerton called for a more targeted definition of intimidation and of the goals to combat it.
“When we expand this into verbal and psychological bullying, it indeed is a slippery slope to micromanage anything that a person might use to persuade another person,” Norby said. “Bullying, in fact, may be in the eye of the beholder.”
The ambiguity Norby raised has complicated debates about the role that peer abuse plays in suicides by young people. Last year, a 15-year-old girl in Massachusetts hanged herself after classmates ostracized her on Facebook, through text messages and at school.
Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, said repeated budget cuts to law enforcement agencies in recent years means the public must take more responsibility to deter risky and ultimately criminal behavior among young people. In addition, academic pressure has decreased attention to citizenship lessons in classrooms, he said.
He recommended the establishment of curricula and training to help students identify and oppose bullying.
Hueso introduced people in the Assembly to members of an elementary school program in his district dedicated to anti-bullying.
As PeaceBuilders, the four students walk the campus of El Toyon School, just outside San Diego, watching for conflicts. When they see others not getting along, the mediators try to talk them out of confrontations.
“Since we cannot be everywhere,” Hueso said, “we must teach them, instruct them and empower them to keep them from being the targets of bullying.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)