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Thursday, January 16, 2014
A new bill in the S.C. House of Representatives would require school districts in South Carolina to develop an anonymous website where students can report harassment, intimidation or bullying.
Known as the “Report-A-Bully in School Website Act,” HB4413 is sponsored by S.C. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and is currently in a house committee on education and public works. Limehouse said he was motivated to sponsor the bill after reading stories from around the country about children committing suicide because they were bullied or harassed by other students.
“In your adolescent years and even in high school, sometimes the bullying can have such a dramatic effect on young people’s lives that they’re literally scarred forever,” Limehouse said. “Bullying can have a devastating impact on young people, particularly when you have groups of students ganging up on one child. This is not something that’s unique to one place, one school or one state. This is pervasive across the country.”
The state Department of Education would be required to develop guidelines related to bullying and provide any information received through the website that isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act. If passed, each school district in the state would have until September to create a website.
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said the bill “has merit,” but couldn’t say this early on how he’d vote on it.
“We know there’s probably a majority of people, including adults, that either experienced bullying or saw bullying going on while they were in school,” he said.
Taylor said he did have concerns about students possibly using the website to anonymously make false accusations about another student to get them in trouble.
Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, said he also has questions that surround students taking advantage of the website but also about the state mandating schools to set up the sites.
“I realize at this day and age, especially with technology, that bullying is a tremendous problem within our schools,” he said. “… We are dealing with children and teenagers, and sometimes that’s done out of spite with no validity to it whatsoever. I don’t know who would have access to (the website). Would it just be the schools themselves that have access, or would the public have access?”
Wells said a bill can change dramatically, especially after going through subcommittees and amendments. He and Taylor said they expect a variety of people close to the situation to testify about the bill – pro and con, including school administrators, counselors and Department of Education personnel.
“That’s how we operate; you sit and listen to people to gather information that we, as legislators, might not think of,” Taylor said. “The people closest to the issue know the most.”
Wells said he plans to begin a dialogue with local school officials to gather their thoughts on the proposed measure.
A majority of states, including South Carolina, have anti-bullying laws of some form. The Safe School Climate Act was signed into law in 2006 and was designed to limit and punish “harassment, intimidation or bullying” in schools.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.