A lawmaker from Pennsylvania says he wants to crack down on bullying. One way to do so, he says, is to punish parents for their child’s bad behavior.
State Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria) plans to propose legislation that would require parents to pay up to $500 if their child is a habitual bully and to notify school officials each time the child bullies another student. The bill, though, would not immediately impose the stiff penalty. If a child bullies for the first time, school officials would have to take some type of action, according to Burns’s office. Parents would have to take parenting classes on bullying after a second incident. If a child keeps bullying, his or her parents would receive a court citation ordering them to pay the penalty and/or participate in community service.
“Bullying is underreported and often unaddressed in a meaningful way. When it’s not addressed, bullying can escalate quickly from taunts and hurtful online posts to physical assaults and — in worst cases — suicide. Holding students, parents and officials at all levels accountable is the only way to put an end to this scourge,” Burns said in a statement Monday. “If holding parents accountable is what it takes to reel in their kids’ bad behavior, then let’s do it. … No student should ever have to go to school in fear or shame.”
It is unclear how broad the legislation would be and whether it would cover only bullying incidents that happen at school or also cyberbullying via social media platforms. Burns was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The bill is one of three pieces of legislation that Burns said he is planning to introduce. One proposal would have the Department of Education create a system that would allow people to report bullying anonymously. The other would require schools to track and report incidents of bullying to create real-time data, according to his office.
It is unclear whether Burns’s proposals were prompted by specific incidents of bullying, but his office said he has visited classrooms throughout his district, located east of Pittsburgh, to talk about bullying and urge students to sign an anti-bullying pledge.
A 2011 survey of more than 24 million children ages 12 to 18 found that nearly 28 percent of students — or about 6.8 million kids — reported being bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is, they were called names, insulted, threatened with harm, and pushed or shoved, for example. Nine percent, or about 2.2 million kids, said they were cyberbullied.
Bullying and suicide are closely related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but research does not show that bullying directly causes suicide.
“We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do NOT engage in suicide-related behavior,” the CDC said in a 2014 report. “It is correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors.”
Burns’s proposal to punish the parents of a bully is not unheard of.
Under an anti-bullying law that took effect in October in North Tonawanda, a small New York city just north of Buffalo, parents could be fined $250 or be sentenced to 15 days in jail, or both, if their child violates laws on curfews and bullying, the Buffalo News reported. The law was prompted by the violent behavior of a small group of male students.
The law also faced some objections. Charles Ewing, a University at Buffalo SUNY law professor, questioned whether the law is legal, constitutional or practical and said parents of a bullying victim have the option to sue a bully’s family.
“The idea is to sort of beat our chests and say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this anymore and somebody’s got to do something.’ If this were perceived to be a problem that needed criminalizing, it should be up to the State Legislature to criminalize it,” he told the Buffalo News.
In 2016, city officials in Shawano in northeastern Wisconsin passed an ordinance that gives parents 90 days after a police warning to address their child’s bullying behavior. They will be fined $366 is they failed to do so and $681 if their child bullies again, WFRV reported. City officials passed the law in the wake of a high school shooting. Jakob Wagner, a student who had been bullied, shot and injured four students as they were leaving a high school prom.