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Md. bills tackle school bullying

Lawmakers hear harrowing tales from students harassed in person, online

Lawmakers hear harrowing tales from students harassed in person, online

February 21, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Stories of verbal and physical abuse tugged at state lawmakers Wednesday as they considered four bills on limiting bullying and its electronic cousin, cyberbullying.

Shira Moskowitz, a 15-year-old from Montgomery County, Md., said two classmates assaulted her, but school officials downplayed it as "a terrible misunderstanding among friends."

Her 16-year-old sister, Ilana, said someone related to one of the attackers threatened to slit her throat.

A teenage boy told the House Ways and Means Committee that someone created an account on Facebook, a social networking Web site, and people posted degrading comments about why they hate him.

The experience was "frightening, intimidating and humiliating," the boy said, adding, "I felt like I lived in an unsafe world."

Committee members clapped after he spoke and praised his courage for speaking up.

The Herald-Mail is not identifying the boy because his father said the boy could face backlash.

The four bills heard by the committee were similar; all asked for local education officials to set policies on bullying.

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In her bill, Del. Anne R. Kaiser, D-Montgomery, called for a new statewide "school bullying ombudsman," who would, among other things, investigate unresolved complaints.

The bills received favorable comments and little opposition during more than two hours of hearings.

Marcia Lathroum of the Maryland State Department of Education said the department favors a bill filed by Del. Dana M. Stein, D-Baltimore County, because it aligns with current definitions of "bullying" and "harassment."

That bill defines bullying as "any intentional negative verbal, physical, or written act, including an Internet posting, by one or more students committed repeatedly and over time that is directed against another student and interferes with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from a school's educational program."

Harassment has some of the same characteristics, but "causes discomfort with the student's identity characteristics."

Del. Craig L. Rice, D-Montgomery, who sponsored one bill, said it's imperative to help the many children suffering because of bullying.

"Children are killing themselves because they don't want to go to school," he said.

Some witnesses cited the harassment that mass-killers at schools have faced and described phenomena such as "school phobia" or "bullycide," which is suicide attributed to bullying.

Hamza Khan, a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he was anguished by bullying while in high school, causing a downward spiral in a promising academic career.

Bullying also has created such pain for his brother, who has autism, and his sister, who has Down syndrome, that "never in my life have I felt more helpless," he said.

"We have a moral imperative to do something about bullying," Khan told the committee.

Sponsors suggested that the committee combine elements of their individual bills into one comprehensive bill.




To read the bills:

Go to www.mlis.state.md.us. Click on "Bill Information and Status." In the "Bill Number" box, enter HB199, HB206, HB546, HB732

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