On November 9, 2010, I wrote on my blog Michael-in-Norfolkabout the bullying induced suicide of Christian Taylor, a student at Grafton High School in Yorktown, Virginia (pictured at left).
The story hit home with me because two of my nephews had attended the school involved and because like so many victims of bullying victim induced suicide, Christian's mother sought to have school officials intervene in a meaningful way and protect her son to no effect. Sadly, as seems to be the norm in these cases, school officials did nothing.
To my amazement, Christian's mother left comments on the post and her phone number which lead us to have a conversation yesterday. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that even after her son's death, the principal bully in the sad story remains in school having faced zero consequences.
How can this be?
Because in Virginia there is no anti-bulling statute that requires real and severe consequences for bullies or indifferent school officials. In fact, the existing law bends over backwards to protect teachers and administrators from liability. Here's the basically worthless anti-bullying statute provisions§ found in 22.1-279.6. Code of Virginia of 1950, as amended:
Each school board shall include, in its code of student conduct, prohibitions against bullying, hazing, and profane or obscene language or conduct. School boards shall also cite, in their codes of student conduct, the provisions of § 18.2-56, which defines and prohibits hazing and imposes a Class 1 misdemeanor penalty for violations, i.e., confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
Unfortunately, Sec. 18.2-56 only pertains to hazing in the context of clubs and fraternities and, therefore, there is no criminal penalty for bullying no matter how severe or how horrific the results. As for school officials, § 8.01-220.1:2. of the Code of Virginia provides in part as follows:
A. Any teacher employed by a local school board in the Commonwealth shall not be liable for any civil damages for any acts or omissions resulting from the supervision, care or discipline of students when such acts or omissions are within such teacher's scope of employment and are taken in good faith in the course of supervision, care or discipline of students, unless such acts or omissions were the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
B. No school employee or school volunteer shall be liable for any civil damages arising from the prompt good faith reporting of alleged acts of bullying or crimes against others to the appropriate school official in compliance with specified procedures.
Under this language, all a negligent and indifferent school official need to claim is that they acted in good faith. To say that this situation is outrageous is a hugeunderstatement. Christian Taylor's mother is on a mission to create change (she is launching a foundation) and I hope Virginia readers will begin demanding that something be done to change the existing in adequate laws. Here are highlights from one event where ChristianTaylor's mother, Lisa Williams was speaking out:
The keynote speaker was Lisa Williams, a Yorktown, Va., mother whose son, Christian Taylor, committed suicide May 31 after being bullied. Mrs. Williams has founded a nonprofit foundation in her son's honor aimed at stopping bullying. She's also working with a Virginia lawmaker to strengthen that state's anti-bullying law. The law has been named Christian's Law.
"I don't want any parent to feel what I've gone through," she said. "Schools need to protect our kids. Parents shouldn't have to send their kids to school afraid if they're going to be OK." Mrs. Williams said a business has also given, at a low cost, a car to her foundation. She plans to have names of children who have committed suicide because of bullying since May 2009 printed on the car.
Mrs. Williams said she's angry about what happened to her son, but wanted to use that anger to do something positive.
To effect real change in Virginia it will be necessary to take on one of the most insidious and toxic organizations in Virginia: The Family Foundation ("TFF"), the Virginia affiliate of Focus on the Family. TFF has consistently opposed efforts to enact a comprehensive anti-bully statute that would impose serious consequences on both bullies and school administrators who fail to protect students from bullies. Why? Because TFF basically wants bullies to have carte blanche when it comes to targeting LGBT students. Moreover, TFF doesn't want school officials to be forced to stop homophobic bullying. According to TFF, the current statute is just fine. Here's some of the bullshit TFF was disseminating this past summer:
Efforts to increasingly sexualize our children will be at an all time high this fall. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national organization, recently selected its Richmond Chapter to conduct a pilot program to promote the homosexual agenda in 60 Central Virginia middle schools.
Bullying, no matter the content and no matter the target, is not tolerated in Virginia public schools, making GLSEN's middle school initiative that much more inappropriate and unnecessary. GLSEN's materials regularly undermine both parental authority and religious teaching. They seek to separate children from their families and from their faith upbringing.
While no child should be bullied, the fact is that GLSEN and other pro-homosexual groups are using harassment as a way to promote a dangerous lifestyle and attack the values taught by families across our commonwealth.
It's the typical wink and a nod that Christianists take when it comes to bullying: they claim to oppose it, but are the principal obstacle in passage of truly effective anti-bullying statutes. We need legislation that has teeth and will (1) hold school officials liable for their failure to protect students, (2) not only lead to the expulsion of students who bully others, but can impose jail time, and (3) make the parents financially liable for the consequences of their child's bullying.