Parents, Prosecutor support anti-bullying bills

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Either in your face bullying or the newer cyberbullying the penalty for picking on others may be getting more severe.  Three bills going through the state senate aim to make schools safer and would even make bullying a crime.

Here are some of the ideas if a student bullies three times in one year they would be assigned to another school.  Also bullying or cyberbullying would be a misdemeanor offense punishable not just administratively but criminally.

A number of people support the changes including the new prosecutor.

"Penalties reflect the seriousness of a problem. If a problem is serious the penalties are much higher," said Keith Kaneshiro, Honolulu City Prosecutor, in testimony before the State Senate Committee on Education.

Kaneshiro cited recent surveys showing 51 percent of kids feel bullied or harassed and 63 percent say it's a problem in school.  Parents whose kids and grandkids were bullied support the bills.

"It is really sad that some of our most vulnerable children are subjected to an environment that could leave them with lifelong emotional scars," said Josephine Chang, parent and grandparent, and co-found of Da Moms, a support group to parents with gay children.

"If we're the administrators, if we're the leaders kids will be kids they'll grow out of it, this is nothing it's just growing pains that when these kids get older that's the message they get. They don't need to be accountable they just need to be a bit sneakier," said Dara Carlin, parent, Marriage and Family Therapist and Domestic Violence Survivor Advocate.

School board member Kim Coco Iwamoto also supports bills.  As a foster parent she says her kids have been both victim and bully.

"Hawaii is only one of six states in the country that has no anti bullying legislation and I ask this committee to make sure we're not the last," said Kim Coco Iwamoto, School Board Member.

But some believe severe punishment isn't always the answer.

"There are other solutions besides penalties and consequences. The punitive aspect of bullying we believe should be the secondary response and not the primary response," said Sid Rosen, Adult Friends for Youth, a volunteer mentoring program for at risk children.

The cyberbullies bill would not just apply to school electronics but also to a student's home computer or hand held device.  It would apply to after school hours as well.

Today the Committee on Education deferred Senate Bill 87, which would have re-assigned a bully to a different school.  That essentially kills the legislation unless it's added to another bill.  Senate Bills 919 and 934, which would make bullying a misdemeanor, are still alive and will be voted on Wednesday.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.