The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A state lawmaker says he has a way to stop bullies: Fine their parents up to $750


A lawmaker from Pennsylvania says he wants to crack down on bullying. One way to do so, he says, is to punish parents for their child’s bad behavior.

State Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria) plans to propose legislation that would require parents to pay up to $750 if their child is a habitual bully and require school officials to notify parents each time their child bullies another student.

The bill, though, would not immediately impose the stiff penalty. If a child bullies for the first time, school officials would have to take some type of action, according to Burns’s office. Parents would have to take parenting classes on bullying after a second incident. If a child keeps bullying, a judge will determine whether there’s enough evidence to fine the parents and issue a court order forcing them to pay $500.

If bullying continues after the third incident, parents will be fined $750 for each offense thereafter, Burns said.

“Parental accountability is a big factor in bullying,” Burns said. “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.”

The proposal also covers cyberbullying, which is considered a crime in Pennsylvania. It is one of three pieces of legislation that Burns said he is planning to introduce. One proposal would have the Department of Education create a system that would allow people to report bullying anonymously. It would also penalize educators, either by some type of disciplinary action or suspension, if they fail to report a bullying incident. The other would require schools to track and report incidents of bullying to create real-time data, according to his office.

It is unclear whether Burns’s proposals were prompted by specific incidents of bullying, but his office said he has visited classrooms throughout his district, located east of Pittsburgh, to talk about bullying and urge students to sign an anti-bullying pledge.

A 2011 survey of more than 24 million children ages 12 to 18 found that nearly 28 percent of students — or about 6.8 million kids — reported being bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is, they were called names, insulted, threatened with harm, and pushed or shoved, for example. Nine percent, or about 2.2 million kids, said they were cyberbullied.

A boy shared the pain of being bullied — inspiring thousands to show him love

Bullying and suicide are closely related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but research does not show that bullying directly causes suicide.

“We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do NOT engage in suicide-related behavior,” the CDC said in a 2014 report. “It is correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors.”

Burns’s proposal to punish the parents of a bully is not unheard of.

Under an anti-bullying law that took effect in October in North Tonawanda, a small city north of Buffalo, N.Y., parents can be fined $250 or be sentenced to 15 days in jail, or both, if their child violates laws on curfews and bullying, the Buffalo News reported. The law was prompted by the violent behavior of a small group of male students.

The law also faced some objections. Charles Ewing, a law professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, questioned whether the law is legal, constitutional or practical and said parents of a bullying victim have the option to sue a bully’s family.

“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.’ If this were perceived to be a problem that needed criminalizing, it should be up to the state legislature to criminalize it,” he told the Buffalo News.

In 2016, city officials in Shawano in northeastern Wisconsin passed an ordinance that gives parents 90 days after a police warning to address their child’s bullying behavior. They will be fined $366 if they fail to do so and $681 if their child bullies again, WFRV reported. City officials passed the law in the wake of a high school shooting. Jakob Wagner, a student who had been bullied, shot and wounded four students as they were leaving a high school prom.

Burns said a total of 16 Democrats and nine Republicans have signed on to be co-sponsors of his three bills.

Read more:

‘He was being a little bully’: Video shows father punishing his 10-year-old with run in the rain

After months of bullying, her parents say, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. They blame the school.

A boy who killed himself wrote a letter about bullying. His struggles may have started at home.