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Bill intends to knock out bullies

By Greg Gelpi

It began a year ago as teasing and last month the bullying erupted in a fight on a Clayton County bus that sent the victim to the hospital.

"I had to take her to the emergency room," her mother said. "Both her eyes were messed up."

About a year earlier, some girls began by teasing her and pouring lotion in her hair on the bus. She dismissed it as older students merely picking on freshmen, but the bullying continued and escalated in the year that followed.

Her mother said that the bully punched her in the face while riding the bus home last month. The punch lead to a fight, and the fight rolled out of the bus as she was slammed into the street.

Both juvenile students were suspended 10 days under the state's zero tolerance law.

A bill in the Georgia House would attempt to reduce bullying in schools and would separate the bully from the bullied.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said bullies are currently dealt with under the Chronic Disciplinary Student Act, which was passed about four years ago. The act allows schools to "request" parents to observe their children's behavior at school. If the request is turned down, then juvenile court can order the parents to the school and hold them in contempt if they still don't go.

The problem is with zero tolerance, Teske said. The law treats both the aggressor and the victim the same.

"Bullying is an age-old problem, but I think it has gotten worse with zero tolerance," Teske said. "If we don't look at who's at fault, then how do we know who the bully is? It sounds to me like the legislation is trying to get who the bully is."

Lt. Greg Porter, the commander of the school resource officer program in Clayton County, said bullying exists, but in few numbers.

Many incidents aren't reported since they are resolved by student resource officers, Porter said.

"It's something we know goes on," Porter said. "We have had some outcry n some, but not a lot."

Although he couldn't give a specific number, he said his officers report about three or four a month, but that most complaints are dealt with by the officers themselves and handled in house.

"They have a counseling session, but it's not documented," Porter said.

Most of those incidents are "more or less teasing" and "playground chatter," Porter said.

Jean Gaissert, Clayton County schools coordinator of student services, said, though, the problem is much worse.

"(Bullying) is very prevalent in society," she said. "I really believe schools are mock societies. We are trying to fight it any way we can."

State Rep. Victor Hill, D-Riverdale, helped author the bill. He admitted being bullied himself in school and said the bill would require documentation on bullying and by tracking bullying would help reduce problems.

"Interestingly, that's how I got into martial arts and earned a black belt," Hill said. "To my knowledge, there is no law about bullying in Georgia. I think it ought to pass considering the number in incidents in school."

House Bill 1125 requires all school boards to establish a policy on bullying for students in sixth through 12th grades.

Local school boards would document each complaint of bullying and how the complaint was handled and report the information to the state Department of Education.

The policy would provide a system for handling anonymous complaints of bullying as well as a way to keep the victim anonymous.

The bill mandates that each complaint of bullying be investigated and that students who bully three times are sent to an alternative school.

The bill would also provide consequences for false reports of bullying. Hill said the bill is in committee. The bill must pass committee before being considered by the House.