Bill aims for tougher bullying policy

The Charlotte ObserverMarch 27, 2009 

Should school-yard bullies be punished at school? Or through the criminal justice system?

State Rep. Nick Mackey says treat them as criminals.

"Most bullying incidents are crimes, and we need to look at it this way," he said. "I know a lot of people would ... say, 'That's kids being kids.'"

Mackey is among more than 50 co-sponsors of a House bill that would create a statewide policy on bullying. The measure doesn't call for specific sanctions. Instead it requires school districts to spell out their own "consequences and appropriate remedial action."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools adopted a bullying policy a year ago that sets guidelines for dealing with bullies, while generally giving school administrators some discretion. "We want our response to always be appropriate to the offense, and for the most part, I think we're doing a good job," school board chairwoman Molly Griffin said Thursday. "We want our kids not only to be safe but to feel safe."

Mackey, a freshman Democrat from Charlotte, filed a police report March 10 over one bullying incident. It says food -- Rice Krispiestreats, fruit roll-ups, pudding and cookies -- were stolen from an 11-year-old student's lunch. The boy had experienced similar thefts for two weeks.

Police Capt. Karl Bannerman said the case was referred to the district attorney's office.

Mackey sent a dozen questions by e-mail to school officials asking for a copy of the bullying policy as well as statistics on the number of incidents and complaints at the school involved.

Mackey declined to offer details about the incident or his relationship to the victim.

Bullying, which includes taking food or other possessions, can bring suspensions of a day or longer. Mackey said the punishment should be more severe.

"If a kid comes up to another kid and takes something from them, from their person, yeah, I would say that's a strong-arm robbery," said Mackey, a lawyer. "That's a felony. If I snatch your purse from you, that's a strong-arm robbery."

Not everybody agrees.

"The question is, do we really want to get into the business of criminalizing children at our schools for every rule that they break? And I would say no," said Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte Democrat who also co-sponsored the bullying bill.

"However, if a child breaks a serious rule that is also criminal -- such as using a weapon or taunting a person with a gun or with threats -- then it may be necessary to involve the legal system," she said. "But for most routine examples of bullying, they are not at that level."

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