Louisiana anti-bullying bill inspired by teen's death moves forward, faces opposition

Definitions of bullying due to race, religion and sexual orientation creating sticking points in legislation

Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 10:40pm

Anti-bullying legislation inspired by the death of a Pointe Coupee girl is one step closer to becoming law after being approved by the Senate Education Committee. However, the bill is still seeing some opposition as it heads to the Senate for vote.

Louisiana Senator Rick Ward, Dem. from Maringouin, said he was so affected coverage of the suicide death of Tesa Middlebrook that he decided to do something about it. Ward authored Senate Bill 709.

“She was a wonderful little girl that had many things going for her and you hate to see someone like that have the sad ending that she did," Ward said at the State Capitol.

Middlebrook was a student at Point Coupee High School. The 17-year-old was allegedly the victim of constant bullying. Several months ago she was found dead. She had committed suicide at the very school where she had suffered from continued verbal abuse.

Ward's bill, among other things, defines bullying. it also holds parents and schools accountable to do something about it. However, it doesn't have a list detailing the reason for the bullying. Things like race, religion and sexual orientation and that bothers opponents such as Steve Monaghan of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

"Here’s where the rubber meets the road,” Monaghan explained. “What is offensive to some is that there is an enumeration of behaviors. It's that simple.”

Gene Mills of the Louisiana Forum says a list like this goes too far and believes there's a reason why the legislature always opposes it.

"Efforts have been directed around enumerated lists on characteristics into the law annually,” Mills noted. “These efforts have failed because the legislature has recognized its duty to protect all students inequitably."

Currently nine states have anti-bullying laws that include a list of specific reasons for the bullying. The senate education committee passed the bill and it now moves to the Senate floor for debate.

A couple of weeks ago another anti-bullying bill by Baton Rouge Representative Pat Smith didn't make it out of the House Education Committee. One of the many sticking points was that list defining race, religion, sexual orientation as reasons for the bullying.

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