At just about every legislative committee meeting in Tallahassee, there will be lobbyists lining up to speak for or against various bills. Tom Flanigan reports there was a unique group of lobbyists Tuesday before the Senate K-through-Twelve Education Committee.
Committee member Bill Montford, Democrat from Tallahassee, rose to explain his bill…
“This particular bill provides school districts in Florida with the option of adopting a cyber-bullying awareness week annually on the third week of September. This awareness week will promote awareness of cyber-bullying and increasing attention to identify and prevent cyber-bullying and offering students ways to respond appropriately and to report incidents to school officials.”
For too many young people today, the Internet has become a threatening and painful place. It’s routine for kids to attack each other online. This sometimes escalates to physical violence and even suicide. There have been studies to document this and many experts talking about it. But perhaps those most intimately aware of cyber-bullying and its impact are young people….
“Good morning. We are Mr. Gerard’s seventh grade civics class from Raa Middle School. I’m Shelby Norwood and these are my classmates.”
“My name is Amary Thomas and this bill is about Cyber-bullying and Stalking Awareness Week.”
“Hello. My name is Jennifer Wynn and I’m thirteen years old.”
“Hi, my name is Patricia Prather. I’m thirteen years old and I support the cyber-bullying bill.”
“Hello. My name is Lillie Wynn. I’m thirteen and I support the bill.”
“Hi, my name is Robard DeGraf and I’m from Raa Middle School.”
“Hello, my name is Colin Barrineau. I’m thirteen years old, I go to Raa Middle School and I support this bill.”
“My name’s Michael McCullough, I’m thirteen years old and I support the bill.”
Students speaking before the committee included Amary Thomas…
“Cyber-bullying may lead to depression, insecurity and suicidal thoughts. A lot of children and teens don’t know exactly what cyber-bullying is. But once we start this week, they’ll realize the severity of cyber-bullying and they’ll think to themselves; ‘Wow! If there’s a whole week dedicated to cyber-bullying, it must be a very important subject.’”
Lillie Wynn shared a personal experience…
“I have been cyber-bullied and I have been a cyber-bully. When you cyber-bully someone, sometimes you don’t think about it – what you’re doing – until you do it. I messaged a girl on Facebook and let’s just say the message wasn’t very nice. Now you might ask, ‘What did you get out of cyber-bullying?’ Well that’s a good question. But the thing is, I didn’t get anything out of it. When I cyber-bullied the girl, it wasn’t that I wanted to, it was out of anger and rage.”
Patricia Prather told members that cyber-bullying can have a fatal outcome…
“My friend was cyber-bulled for a few weeks and after she couldn’t take it anymore she killed herself. She ended her life and education too early because of the people who cyber-bullied. I want this to become a law and honor my friend to show how much she means to me.”
Michael McCullough told lawmakers that he believes awareness and education are the best weapons against the cyber-bullying scourge…
“The reason this bill is important is because it helps people learn what cyber-bullying can do to someone. The bill also provides information about what cyber-bullying is and how to stop it. The cyber-bullying week allows students to be provided with intensive instruction to expand their knowledge and understanding of what cyber-bullying is and how it can hurt someone.”
Of course, given the cost-cutting priorities of this legislative session, the big question about any issue is, ‘Where is the money going to come from?’” Republican Committee Member Ellen Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale assured her colleagues that was not a concern in this case…
“We did put in the budget in proviso language that the Safe School dollars, which is the trigger to make sure districts actually address bullying and cyber-bullying in particular, that it’s specifically stated that they could use it for educational purposes and that they have to show that they’re complying with the new law, so there hopefully will be money to actually do some of the things and educate the kids because once they’re educated I think we’ll have less of it.”
Senator Montford’s bill sailed through the committee without a single “no” vote. Afterward, he thanked his young supporters….
“You’re very, very good examples of why we’re here and you make us think real hard before we make some tough decisions. And so thanks for being here and we look forward to some of you – maybe all of you – being up here someday.”
And in a town awash with lobbyists and advocates, the eight middle school youngsters certainly distinguished themselves as among the most sincere and well-behaved.