Thursday, January 11, 2007

One Mom's Uphill Struggle Against Schoolyard Bullies

Two years after her son killed himself in order to escape a thug-in-training school mate's taunts, Florida mom Debra Johnston has been having to struggle against her own state legislators' collective stupidity reluctance to pass an anti-bullying statute:
Jeffrey Johnston won't get to go to his prom this year, or get a driver's license.

He killed himself 11/2 years ago, at age 15, because he was haunted by a classmate's taunts, which were still on the Internet more than a year after they first appeared.

His mother, Debra Johnston, of Cape Coral, is continuing her drive to get a law passed that would allow school districts to crack down on bullying that takes place both on campus and remotely, through Web sites, instant messages or cell-phone text messages.

A measure unanimously passed in the Florida House of Representatives last year but failed to come to a vote in front of the full Senate before the legislative session ended in May.

A new bill has been filed.

"It's a tremendous comfort to me to know that other kids might be spared what Jeff went through," Debra Johnston said. "Because of Jeff, other families might not have to live with all the things that won't happen because of what we've done and because of so many people caring."

State Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, filed the bill last month. State Rep. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, sponsored the House version last year, but as majority whip she can't this year.

But two local freshmen representatives, Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, and Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers, have expressed an interest in the legislation.

"I think it provides a sense of security for families that have children in school," Thompson said. "Many things happen at school that parents don't find out about. This is one way to help schools inform parents and for parents to work with their kids to make sure these kinds of things don't happen."

Johnston and the area students who have worked with her are planning another trip soon as part of their anti- bullying campaign.

This time, they will take part in the Florida Safe Schools Summit in Key Biscayne on Jan. 20.

Students for Safer Schools, as the students from Lee County call themselves, also have become familiar with the state Capitol in Tallahassee and took part in the Suicide Prevention Action Network's annual conference in Washington, D.C., last year.

They plan more trips to Tallahassee this spring to lobby legislators as the bill progresses through both the House and Senate.

Jeff Johnston would have been 17 on Dec. 21, something that made the holiday season tough for the Johnston family.

"I heard a knock at the door, and there must have been 50 of the kids, his friends, and teachers, parents, kids who went on the trip," Debra Johnston said. "All of them were standing outside caroling us. They brought a whole party to celebrate Jeff's birthday. It's nice to know he's still remembered."
It would be interesting to know what percentage of Florida lawmakers send their own children to exclusive private schools.

That might help explain why so many of them in that state's senate refused to support legislation that would help make public schools safer for the children of the public.

Meanwhile, schools in the sunshine state will have to continue permitting the criminals-in-training bullies to have easy access to a ready supply of victims...

Heh. Isn't it ironic that the No Child Left Behind Mandate directs that schools will be labled as underperforming if the bullies don't achieve grade-level proficiency in reading, math, and science?
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