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No bullying after Jan. 1

Some concerned Assembly Bill 86 might fall short

Posted: November 24, 2008 9:23 p.m.
Updated: November 25, 2008 4:30 a.m.

California Assembly Bill 86 will allow school districts to suspend and recommend expulsion for bullies beginning Jan. 1, a Hart District official said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill Sept. 30.

"It gives specific provisions to suspend students or put them up for expulsion for bullying," said Richard Friefeld, William S. Hart Union School District director of student services. "In the past you could always suspend for causing or threatening harm."

Now schools can add intimidation and teasing to what is defined as bullying and take punitive action against students, Friefeld said.

The Hart district will add suspension to its disciplinary tool box on bullying, said Pat Willett, district spokeswoman. Punishment for bullies includes Saturday school or the in-school detention, she said.

Canyon High School Principal Bob Messina said stamping out bullies is more about information than legislation. "We are pretty tough on bullies when we find them," he said. "The problem is bullies don't do their bullying in front of school officials, and kids that get bullied don't always speak up."

AB 86 proponent Jeff Lasater knows exactly where bullying leads. His son Jeremiah Lasater was bullied by students at Vasquez High School and shot and killed himself in a school bathroom Oct. 20.

Lasater responded to the tragedy by founding Project 51, which includes a hotline for bullied children and parents and discipline for bullies, Lasater said.

The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District adopted all but the disciplinary portions of the plan at its Nov. 13 board meeting.

"This doesn't jive with the (California Education Code)," said Mark Distaso, Acton-Ague Dulce school board president.

Project 51 calls for automatic suspension for first-time offenders, a longer suspension for second-time offenders and expulsion for three-time bullies, Lasater said.

Ed Code does not directly reference bullying, Friefeld said.

"The discipline is in line with the new legislation," he said.

The school district put a discussion on bully discipline on the Dec. 11 meeting agenda, Distaso said.

California Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, supported the bill.

"I think bullying has such a long-term affect on the student we needed to do something about it," he said.

Smyth believes the support of state legislation will embolden school districts to get tougher with bullies.

With parents quick to initiate lawsuits to prevent suspension or expulsion, the support of the state Legislature is a powerful tool for schools trying to crack down on bullies.

California Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, thinks school districts should be free to discipline bullies the way they see fit. He voted against AB 86.

"School districts already have the ability to discipline, and I don't think the state should start micromanaging," he said.


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