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Should bullying in schools be a crime?

Published: May. 5, 2022 at 8:06 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Northeast Ohio mom is calling for stricter consequences against bullying after she said her daughter was targeted with violence.

It’s all caught on a shocking video, taped by students.

That video was later posted to social media and passed around by students at school.

It’s hard to watch.

You can see a female student punching a 14-year-old girl over and over in the head and wrestling her to the ground as dozens of students watched, cheered and even recorded.

We’re not naming the school and the victim’s mom asked her identity be protected in this story so her daughter doesn’t face retaliation.

“My first thought was I was angry. I was angry at all the innocent bystanders that stood there and watched it and did nothing,” she said.

Both girls were suspended by school administrators after this fight broke out in April.

“The girl walked up to her started hitting her. And she got suspended for defending herself against bullying,” her mom said.

After this happened, the girl’s mom called Cleveland Police and they filed a report for assault.

Police noted her daughter showed no “noticeable” injuries.

But her mom told us her daughter is still suffering inside.

We spoke with her too.

“Not great, like after the first couple days. I didn’t want to do nothing [sic]. But I know I had to like get my mind off of it,” she said.

But that hasn’t been easy.

She can’t escape the bullying when she’s back at school.

“The kids are still taunting her teasing her. She can’t walk down the hallways feeling comfortable,” her mom said.

And it doesn’t end when she gets home, because the video still exists online.

“It’s awful. It’s awful and I believe something that needs to be done about it,” the girl’s mom said.

She said the bullying started from several different students long before this fight.

And now her daughter’s grades are suffering.

19 Investigates found in Ohio, the law defines bullying as happening more than once, causing mental or physical harm to the other student, and it’s severe or persistent enough “that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the other student.”

The girl’s mom thinks this incident should have been treated as bullying, not just a fight.

And she wants to see the school improve its response.

“Maybe more stricter consequences, maybe the consequences they’ve had in place in their handbook are just not working anymore,” she said.

That’s something State Senator Sandra Williams, a Democrat from Cleveland, wants to see too--stricter consequences for students.

Right now consequences for bullying usually lie with school districts.

She’s proposing to make it a criminal misdemeanor.

“If the consequences don’t scare you. What else can we do?” Williams said.

Under her state bill, Senate Bill 267, she said bullies and their parents would have to work with the school, taking a number of steps to respond to the problem.

Sen. Williams said the steps are as follows:

1. The school would bring in the student to talk about the problem.

2. Parents would meet with school administrators to come up with solutions.

3. Peer mediation.

4. In-school suspension.

5. Out-of-school suspension.

6. The student would face a criminal misdemeanor charge for bullying.

“There are people who are not very happy about it,” Williams said. “And what I tell them is if you see the faces of these family members who are calling me and coming into my office to talk about what is happening to their children, those people believe that their child might not be around for a very long time. You would understand why the misdemeanor charge is there. That’s why I’m doing it,” she said.

For Williams, it’s personal. She believes schools aren’t doing enough.

“It started out with my niece being bullied at a local school and every day she would come home crying. Sometimes I would have to go to pick her up from school,” she said.

Some may think a misdemeanor charge is too harsh.

Williams has worked in criminal justice for more than a decade, and she said she understands it’s a serious charge.

But she insists it’s needed and needed now.

“It’s our responsibility to move. We move on everything else. How about move on the issue of bullying, because I guarantee you if it was your child you’d do something about it,” she said.

That’s why this mom is speaking out.

Because for her daughter, the school year can’t end soon enough.

“You can’t learn nothing if you’re in fear all day,” she said.

State Senator Williams’s bill is still waiting for another hearing.

Another state bill, House Bill 147, would allow students and parents request an investigation into their school’s compliance with their bullying policy.

You can read more about Ohio’s current laws on bullying here from stopbullying.gov.

We found in Florida, it’s a first degree misdemeanor to harass or cyberstalk another person or a child under 16.

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