Burns introduces anti-bullying bills at Capitol rally

Parents or guardians of kids who bully could face fines, community service

HARRISBURG, April 10 – Invited to attend because of the strong response to his proposals to get tough on the parents of bullies, state Rep. Frank Burns expounded on his three bills at an anti-bullying rally at the Capitol today.

Burns, D-Cambria, stood with other legislators from across Pennsylvania, as well as supporters of the cause, and urged unity and swift action to stamp out what he views as a major problem for schoolchildren.    

“As I toured schools in the 72nd Legislative District last fall, talking about bullying and getting students to sign my anti-bullying pledge, it became evident to me just how insidious this problem is,” Burns said. “Being taunted, tortured and terrorized by other students is far more prevalent than most people think. When I heard these students’ real-life stories, I made up my mind – then and there – to do something about it.”

When he announced his forthcoming legislation a few weeks ago, Burns said he was floored by the news coverage it generated statewide, nationally and even internationally – particularly the component that would fine parents up to $750 or have them face community service for their child’s repeated bullying or cyber harassment.

“While schools will continue to discipline students according to district bullying policies, as they do now, this legislation is the first of its kind to impose penalties on parents,” Burns said. “All fine-generated revenue would be paid to the school and earmarked for developing and conducting instructional courses on bullying called for under these bills.”

Burns said the adult penalty aspect is covered under his H.B. 2217, which would define bullying as “an intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act, or a series of acts” in a school setting that is “severe, persistent or pervasive” and that substantially interferes with a student’s education, creates a threatening environment or substantially disrupts orderly operation of the school.

The bill also would expand that definition to include retaliation for reporting bullying, Burns said. 

Including notification of all parents at every stage, the progressive steps called for under H.B. 2217 are:

  • An investigation by the school within five days of a report or claim of bullying or cyber harassment and, if confirmed, notification of the parents or guardians of all students involved and a school-crafted action plan to remedy the situation.

  • Upon a second confirmed case within the same academic year, written notice to the parents or guardians to attend a bullying resolution conference with school personnel, the outcome of which would be a written action plan that includes parental participation. This phase also would include a requirement that the parent or guardian attend at least one anti-bullying instructional course and that the student attend an age-appropriate, anti-bullying workshop.

  • Upon a third or subsequent act in the same academic year, the school would have to file a citation against the parents or guardian with a magisterial district judge, where they could face a $500 fine (rising to $750 for a fourth or subsequent bullying offense), and/or court-mandated community service. Noncompliance could result in up to three days in jail for the parent or guardian.

The other two bills in Burns’ package are H.B. 2218, which among other things would create an anonymous procedure for someone to report bullying or cyber harassment to the state Education Department and require follow-up investigation, and H.B. 2219, which would among other things require schools to maintain publicly available records of reported incidents of bullying and cyber harassment.

Additionally, Burns said school administrators who fail to report or follow through on resolving bullying incidents could face punishment by the Education Department, up to and including loss of teaching or principal certifications.