Should the definition of bullying include cyberbullying?

Should the definition of bullying include cyberbullying?

House Bill 305, proposed in the upcoming 85th Legislature, will provide a definition of cyberbullying.

"Cyberbullying" would mean bullying that is done through the use of electronic communication, including any cellular or other type of telephone, a computer, a pager, a camera, electronic mail, instant messaging, text messaging, a social media account or an internet website.

"This will be accomplished with David's Law," said state Rep. Ina Minjarez.

The bill would be one in a series created by Minjarez and state Sen. Jose Menendez, both D-San Antonio.

In December 2015, the two lawmakers met with the parents of Matt Vasquez, who had been repeatedly harassed online through anonymous social media accounts.

Among other attacks, Matt was bullied for having leukemia, and he was encouraged to kill himself.

However, the current laws could not be applied to the case, the legislators were told.

In another case, tragedy was the result for a San Antonio family Jan. 4 when David Molak, 16, took his own life after extensive online harassment.

"David's family has been resilient in the face of unspeakable anguish," Minjarez said. "In honor of their son, they have called on the Texas Legislature to pass David's Law, a bill to prevent and combat bullying."

She said now is the right time for a law about the issue because student life is becoming increasingly complex.

"We have to move our laws with technology so that we can keep our children safe," she said. "Students like David Molak and Matt Vasquez were being harassed and threatened on social media, not in the gym locker room."

David's Law will empower school administrators and law enforcement to go after and reprimand the bullies who prey on students while focusing on rehabilitation, Minjarez said.

PRO: Law addresses all forms of communication

Proponents of House Bill 305 said the legislation that defines bullying will address all forms of communication.

Kim Motley, Victoria school district counseling coordinator, said the bill about cyberbullying will support the school district's efforts to address bullying through all formats of social media and telecommunication.

"Electronic harassment is as harmful, if not more so, (as) face-to-face bullying," Motley said.

She said people often become desensitized to their actions online, leading to extreme attacks on others.

"VISD is committed to ensuring a positive learning environment for all," Motley said. "We not only focus on the academic well-being of our students but also their social and emotional health."

What occurs online often results in issues in schools, she said.

Part of VISD's responsibility is to address issues that cause discomfort to students regardless of where it begins.

Victoria Police Chief JJ Craig said he is against any type of bullying.

"As of now, there is no law specifically prohibiting cyberbullying," Craig said.

Craig said he believes just because a law does not label specific actions as illegal, that does not mean the actions are legal.

Years ago, students would commonly create fake profiles of other students and post content on their behalf. Though not labeled cyberbullying, the action is illegal, he said.

The burden is placed on the school because a type of program, policy or procedure must be in place, he said.

"If it happened at school, that's a bullying incident. At home, it is harassment as the law's written now," Craig said.

Investigating a school-related offense would be the Victoria County Sheriff's Office's jurisdiction because that agency handles such offenses, he said.

"If it is a law, we will enforce it and investigate violations of those laws," Craig said.

Cons: Protecting children from cyberbullying begins with parents

Opponents of House Bill 305 said the proposed legislation about cyberbullying addresses an issue that should not be the school's responsibility.

Allie Tarpley Byars, of Mission Valley, said incidents that occur off-campus are in the parents' domain.

The stay-at-home mother and full-time student pursuing teacher certification acknowledges that bullying that occurs off-campus affects the student at school.

"Do not put yet something else on the schools' plates that the parents should be responsible for," Byars said. "They are already teaching them basic manners and life skills now; they can't raise the kids for them, too."

The student who is engaged in bullying should be accountable instead of being labeled as the victim because of other issues, she said.

"Stop making excuses for destructive and damaging behavior and call them what they are - bullies," Byars said. "They may be insecure and have issues, but there is no excuse for potentially ruining someone else's life."

Schools should create effective methods for handling the behavior and situation.

"The parents of the victims can't do anything, and it's frustrating," she said.

Anthony Rosengrant, of Crescent Valley, said there is no reason students in any grade need social media.

Responsibility on either side of bullying is a parental issue, he said. Teachers should be able to identify children who are in a troubled emotional state.

And, he said, self-defense tactics should be taught in schools in various forms such as boxing, judo or jiujitsu.

"People are not teaching their children to have respect for everybody else's feelings and choices anymore," he said.

Rosengrant said he was the victim of bullying while growing up, and that culture has not changed.

In some cases, the bully comes from an indirectly abusive home where the child picks up on that behavior and can act out on family members or other people.

The father of three elementary school children said if one of them came home and said they were being treated badly, his first thought would be words cannot hurt.

"Know that you are better than that person for not sticking back," he said. "Words should be used to defend yourself."

Though fighting is not an answer, one should expect to use it as a possible solution, he said.

"We live in a lawsuit-styled world," Rosengrant said.

He said he has taught his oldest son, who is 10, how to defend himself, but knows he would get in trouble along with the bully for doing so, which is a deterrent to defense.

More opportunities for help should be offered to children, he said, considering the rise of suicide.

"Schools can't control cyberbullying because that's their (the students') personal time online," Rosengrant said. "Bullying is never going to end, but it can be controlled better by parents."

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Education reporter

Gabriella Canales graduated from the University of Houston-Victoria with a B.A. in English in 2016. Feel free to contact her with ideas because she is eager to tell stories.

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