One Pennsylvania lawmaker is set to propose a bill that would fine the parents of school bullies over their children’s behavior. Frank Burns, a Democrat state representative from Johnstown, isn’t just recommending some small scale fines, either: Parents could be shelling out up to $500 after the third instance of bullying and $750 for each offense after that.
While this seems harsh, the fines wouldn’t happen after the first instance of bullying. If the bill becomes law, schools would be forced to take some action after one incident, but parents won’t have to get involved just yet. After a second incident, however, parents will be forced to take classes on bullying.
“Parental accountability is a big factor in bullying,” Burns said in an interview with the Washington Post. “A lot of parents refuse to believe that their son or daughter is bullying people. They want to believe that their kid is great and would not do such a thing.”
This is just one of three pieces of legislation that Burns is proposing. Another would require that the Department of Education give students and parents a system through which they’ll have the opportunity to report bullying while maintaining their anonymity. While educators could use the anonymous system as well, they would be penalized should it come out that they knew of a bullying incident and didn’t report it. The final piece of legislation would create a database of bullying incidents and trends.
If this seems like overkill, it’s important to note how prevalent bullying is. According to StopBullying.org, between one in four and one in three U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. The figure also includes indirect bullying that doesn’t require the student being bullied to occupy the same space as their bully; in other words, cyberbullying and spreading hurtful rumors about a person are both covered by the legislation.
While the bill tries to aggressively attack the core of the problem, not everyone is sold on Barnes’ plan just yet. Some question whether the law is constitutional, and note that it’s already possible for the bullying victim’s family to sue the bully’s parents.
“The idea is to sort of beat our chests and say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this anymore and somebody’s got to do something.’” law professor Charles Ewing said to the Buffalo News. “If this were perceived to be a problem that needed criminalizing, it should be up to the state legislature to criminalize it.”
Moreover, imposing a harsh fine could very well make the bullying worse. According to the Australian Insitute of Family Studies, kids who bully have a “lack of nurturing and emotional support provided by [their]family,” and often “harsh, physical punishment is used to coerce and control the child.” Adding economic stress might only exacerbate the problem.