Burns on the forefront of strong anti-bullying efforts

Lawmaker, software company bringing free technology to Penn Cambria School District

CRESSON, Aug. 19 – Building on his ground-breaking anti-bullying efforts from last year, state Rep. Frank Burns announced a two-pronged approach to curb bullying in schools during a news conference today at Penn Cambria High School.

Burns, D-Cambria, laid out an aggressive package of legislation coupled with a pilot program that puts part of his anti-bullying plan into action in the real world.

“With thousands of students in Cambria County heading back to school, I knew this was the time to redouble my efforts to address bullying,” Burns said. “Being taunted, tortured and terrorized by other students is far more prevalent than most people think. We cannot let another school year go by without addressing this epidemic.”

Burns said he is reintroducing a bold proposal first put forth last year that would penalize the parents of habitual bullies with a fine of up to $750 and/or community service if the parents fail to do their part to stop their child’s destructive behavior. The measure garnered worldwide attention for its unusual approach: holding parents accountable for repeated acts of bullying.

Additionally, Burns plans to introduce the Pennsylvania Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, modeled after a similar law in New Jersey. Burns’ bill lays out the rights of students, parents and schools as they relate to bullying and builds on the Safe2Say anonymous violence and bullying reporting program that was implemented in schools statewide last year. 

The bill would also require districts to more thoroughly track and investigate incidents of bullying and report meaningful statistics to the Department of Education.

Both bills include an enhanced definition of bullying that better differentiates between joking or teasing and true bullying and includes retaliation for reporting bullying as an act of bullying itself. 

“Students shouldn’t fear retaliation for reporting bullying, nor should parents feel their concerns fall on deaf ears,” Burns said. “We know that when bullying isn’t addressed, things can escalate. That’s why it’s critical that schools have the tools they need to track bullying and that state laws hold students, parents and officials accountable at all levels so students can focus on learning.”

Burns noted he isn’t waiting for the General Assembly to move on his legislation. Working with the Johnstown-based software company HIBster, Burns created a pilot program in which Penn Cambria School District will aggressively track, analyze and report bullying using the HIBster software, provided gratis for a year by the company.

“Penn Cambria School District is honored to have this opportunity to partner with Representative Burns and HIBster to monitor, track and identify acts of bullying districtwide and make our Penn Cambria community safer for all students,” Penn Cambria Superintendent William Marshall said.

HIBster already has its program in use at hundreds of New Jersey schools, as well as the Philadelphia and Erie school districts. Highlights of the program include a hotspot locator, complete history of incidents, tracking incidents between grade levels and the ability to collect data on specific trends of bullying in schools throughout all grade levels.

The company’s software also helps administrators correspond with parents and compile a variety of reports.

HIBster’s involvement arose from its participation in an anti-bullying House Policy Committee hearing Burns organized last fall in Upper Yoder Township.

“With our work in many schools throughout New Jersey and now Pennsylvania, the HIBster software has allowed the schools to take their anti-bullying initiatives to the next level providing a proven, software-based program. This Pennsylvania legislation will help do the same for other schools,” said Dominic Cannizzaro, CEO of HIBster. “The district and its administration should be commended for being a part of this initial pilot phase and for adding this additional tool to their schools.”

Burns noted that Penn Cambria will share its experience using the software, following the guidelines of his legislation, at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

“I thank HIBster for recognizing the value of working with Penn Cambria by offering this tool to our students and I look forward to seeing the positive changes we can make when we honestly and fully address the scourge of bullying,” Burns said.