- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Maryland legislator, motivated by his daughter’s unhappy experience, is pushing for more stringent monitoring of bullying in schools.

Rep. Luiz Simmons, Montgomery County Democrat, is the co-sponsor of House Bill 407, which would require each school system to report the number of complaints filed by students, teachers or parents about “harassment or intimidation” in schools.

“Bullying should not be a rite of passage. For a lot of people it’s a rite of terror,” Mr. Simmons said. “A lot of these problems stay with people into their adulthood. The effects of bullying are not ephemeral. They are permanent in many ways.”

Mr. Simmons’ daughter, Rachel, attended Montgomery County public schools and wrote a book about the harassment she received from other girls.

Her book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and is 1,606 in the Amazon.com sales rankings.

The state legislature passed the bullying bill last year, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, vetoed it, saying the bill created “additional bureaucracy for no obvious purposes.” The House overrode the veto, but the Senate failed to override the veto by two votes. The bill is still in committee this session.

Mr. Ehrlich’s position from last year “still stands,” said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “He’s going to reserve judgment on this bill until it reaches his desk.”

Although 17 states have anti-bullying legislation, Maryland’s law would be the first of its kind.

Mr. Ehrlich is not the only one opposed to the bill.

Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast, who pushed for a new sex-education curriculum to halt bullying of homosexual students, advised the school board in February to oppose the statewide bill, which members did in a March 2 vote.

The county does not have statistics on bullying. Countywide statistics show only how many students have been suspended. During the 2003-04 school year, about 6,400 students, or 4.6 percent of the county’s enrollment, were suspended, up from the 2000-01 school year, when about 4,300 students, or 3.3 percent, were suspended.

Patricia Gordon, vice chairman of the Howard County school board who served as a high school principal in Brooklyn, N.Y., for 16 years, said bullying should be handled at the school level.

“The burden of paperwork would be unbelievable” under the legislation, she said.

“There are constantly incidents occurring between children. I really don’t think it’s necessary for teachers to compile reports and pass them on to the principals, who then pass them on to the state. I think that’s a waste of time when you can deal with it in the school,” she said.

Mr. Simmons, however, says outside accountability is needed for school systems such as Montgomery County’s.

“One of the things all these school systems lack, including Montgomery County, is record keeping that is anything other than internal,” Mr. Simmons said. “My fear is that some of the opposition has to do with the unwillingness to be accountable.”

Bullying today may be different from the playground taunts that earlier generations faced, said Alice Gordon, Montgomery County’s safe and drug-free schools program coordinator and a substitute teacher. Bullying has taken new and less conspicuous forms, thanks to text messaging on cell phones or on the Internet through e-mail, instant messaging and Web logs.

“We’re talking about a level of intimidation before you walk out your front door. … Before you even reach the school, the level of bullying anxiety is so high,” Mrs. Gordon said. “Some of your bullies can be a 65-pound student who has the brain power to make your life miserable. We’re not talking about the big football player.

“The bill won’t fix the problem, but it will create an atmosphere of preventiveness,” said Mrs. Gordon, whose daughter, now 19, was harassed so badly because of her weight that Mrs. Gordon decided to home-school her in high school.

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