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Mother calls for tougher Indiana bullying laws
Originally printed 6/14/2012 (Issue 2024 - Between The Lines News)
WHITELAND, Ind. (AP) -
An Indiana woman who says her daughter was bullied so often that she pulled her from school to protect her has launched a campaign that she hopes will lead lawmakers to expand the state's definition of bullying and impose harsh punishment for offenders.
Angela Stagge of Whiteland also is organizing a walk in July to call attention to the issue and is trying to raise money for schools to have more anti-bullying programs and training.
Stagge said her 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea Little, was repeatedly bullied at Clark-Pleasant Schools, forcing the family to eventually withdraw her and put their Whiteland home up for sale. She said she decided to move forward with the anti-bullying effort after she heard about a May 15 rally for Darnell "Dynasty" Young, a gay Indianapolis high school student who was expelled for bringing a stun gun to school to protect himself from bullies.
"These kids are going through torture every day of their lives," Stagge told The Indianapolis Star http://indy.st/Mwa0gn.
Stagge said the bullying against Little started when her daughter was in eighth grade at Clark-Pleasant Middle School and stemmed from a conflict with a boy who liked her. Little wasn't interested in the boy, but a friend was.
Little said her friend and other girls began calling her names to imply she was promiscuous, would hide her books and would leave the lunch table when she sat down. She said she was pushed into lockers and bathroom stalls, threatened in public places and on Facebook and received disturbing text messages.
"It's amazing what people can do to your life in a matter of seconds," Little said. "It really is."
Stagge said she advised her daughter to ignore the bullies, but it didn't work. She filed complaints with the Whiteland Police Department and obtained a restraining order against one student.
But she said the bullying continued when Little began her freshman year at Whiteland Community High School, where she was assigned to the same lunch period as the student against whom she had the restraining order.
Stagge said her complaints to school officials didn't yield results.
"They said, `Well, we can isolate her from the other kids. We can put her in a different room. She doesn't have to be around the other kids,"' Stagge said. "And I said, `Now wait a minute, you're isolating my child, and my child hasn't done anything wrong.' "
Clark-Pleasant Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Caress declined to discuss Little's case because of laws that protect students' privacy but said the district takes bullying and harassment seriously. Staff members receive training at least once a year, and teachers are told to report bullying incidents to building administrators so they can investigate. Students also participate in anti-bullying education programs, Caress said.
"We make every attempt to eliminate and terminate all negative harassment and/or discrimination of any kind that would be bullying in nature," Caress said.
Stagge said it isn't enough and launched her drive in hopes of providing money for more training. She also hopes to spur lawmakers to beef up the state's anti-bullying law.
Indiana law defines bullying as "overt, repeated" actions meant to harm others and requires schools to craft their own policies to address bullying. Cyberbullying isn't included in the definition.
Stagge's petition calls for cyberbullying to be added and for the law to require harsh punishment for children who bully others.
State Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, proposed a bill this year that would have expanded the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying. It also would have required schools to provide bullying education and allowed teachers who don't investigate bullying complaints to be punished.
The bill never got a hearing.
"They just didn't think it was important enough," Porter said.
Porter said he plans to introduce changes to the bullying law again next year and hopes to get a better reception.
"Bullying goes across all lines, no matter race, color or creed," he said. "It's something that happens on a daily basis. . . . We can't continue to hide from it."
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the House of Representatives Education Committee, said lawmakers want to ensure that they don't give school districts too many mandates. He said he would like to talk with educators, prosecutors and parents to determine the best approach before changing the law.
Stagge plans to continue her push.
She wrote the petition the day of the Young rally and drove to Indianapolis to participate and collect signatures. She attended a screening of the movie "Bully," where Little spoke about her experience. She collected about 300 signatures at the 500 Festival Parade last month.
She plans to have a booth at the Indiana State Fair and is planning a walk and ceremony in downtown Indianapolis on July 28. She is ordering anti-bullying T-shirts and bracelets to raise money to help schools pay for educational programs about bullying.
So far, about 900 people have signed the petition, and frustrated parents from all over the state have begun to call.
"The response has been awesome," Stagge said.