Bullying bill deserves support of all Oklahomans
BY SANJAY MESHRI & SHANE FERNANDEZ
Thursday, February 14, 2013
2/14/13 at 4:39 AM
Bullying is an insidious, growing problem in Oklahoma. The numbers are staggering:
Ultimately, though, bullying isn't about numbers. It's about people.
- 160,000. That's the number of students who stay home from school every day in the U.S. because they are bullied.
- 43. That's the percentage of students who report being bullied online.
- 84. That's the percentage of bullying incidents that happen without peer or adult intervention.
Student participants in the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice's "Middletown" program say they have been teased and tormented for various reasons. These students consistently state that they do not tell an adult for fear the bullying will worsen.
Bullying does not discriminate; it can affect students of any background and in recent years, studies and anecdotal evidence show that bullying is no longer confined to school hallways and cafeterias.
Oklahoma may be poised to take much-needed action. On Feb. 5, HB 1661 went to the House Common Education Committee. This legislation is intended to update and strengthen the existing "Bullying Prevention Act," expanding the definition of electronic communication, setting requirements for all school employees to report suspected harassment and provide anti-bullying training for students and educators.
In these three proposed additions, schools and communities across the state can take proactive steps to ensure that another child is not lost to bullying.
Every Oklahoma student, regardless of race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, or any other personal identities, must have a legal right to feel safe at school. This measure takes the "bystander" out of bullying, requiring and empowering them to become "upstanders" who stand up to cruelty and abuse.
At OCCJ, we've stepped up our anti-bullying efforts through programs like "Middletown, "Different and the Same," and a partnership with Circle Cinema, presenting special screenings of the documentary "Bully," which is partially set in Oklahoma. OCCJ and like-minded organizations have formed an Anti-Bullying Collaboration that meets monthly to discuss and strategize ways to address this issue.
Numbers are compelling. But not as compelling as the heart-wrenching stories behind those numbers. Each and every child victimized by bullying deserves our protection. We urge all Oklahomans to support HB 1661 as an important step in ending this painful epidemic.
Sanjay Meshri is board chairman for the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice. Shane Fernandez is vice chairman of public policy.
Sanjay Meshri (left) and Shane Fernandez: Each and every child victimized by bullying deserves our protection.