TX Senate committee hears emotional testimony from parents of bullying suicide victims

Sen. Wendy Davis, who’s worked for two years with Equality Texas to craft a comprehensive anti-bullying law, introduced the bill in the Senate Education Committee this morning.

Davis told the committee that one in five students report being bullying on school grounds. Among the highlights of the bill, Davis explained, are that it would allow the victims of bullying to remain anonymous, it would expand the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, and it would allow school officials to transfer the bully, rather than just the victim, to another class or school. Notification of parents is required, but principals could withhold notification of parents if a victim’s safety were at risk.

Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, asked, “How can bullying be proven?”

Davis answered that this is covered by the expanded definition of bullying and by equipping teachers with the tools to identify bullying behavior.

“So children can feel safe in their educational environment,” Davis said.

Shapiro responded, “So bullying is just in the eyes of the beholder?”

Four people lined up to testify during the morning session including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Texas, The Texas Classroom Teachers Association and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

Only two spoke before the committee adjourned for a Senate floor session. The Hogg Foundation spoke in favor of the bill and the ACLU against.

Testimony, including from the parents of three bullying victims who committed suicide, continued this afternoon.

Amy Truong, Asher Brown’s mother, spoke first. Wednesday will be the six-month anniversary of Asher’s death. Her testimony was so powerful that Jon Carmichael’s mother, who was schedule to speak next, left the room in tears. Instead, Jon’s sister spoke.

Montana Lance’s parents both testified before the committee. His father said that when Montana went to teachers or administrators, they told him not to be a tattletale. Jason Lance said he called the school and followed up every time he knew his son was bullied. Deborah Lance, his mother, said her son was simply overcome by bullying before he went into the nurse’s bathroom and hung himself. She said that in a year, four children in Texas have taken their own lives because of bullying. If legislators don’t act, they can expect another eight to commit suicide before they meet again.

Davis spoke and was in tears. Shapiro offered her sorrow to each of the parents on behalf of the committee, where the bill was left pending.

For more information on members of the Senate Education Committee, go here. A companion bill is also pending in the House education committee.

—  David Taffet

Anti-bullying bill to be heard by Senate panel

Sen. Wendy Davis

The Senate Educate Committee will hold hearings on Tuesday, March 22 at 8:30 a.m. on several anti-bullying bills, including a measure authored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, that’s backed by Equality Texas.

Davis’ bill is the Senate companion to a bill by Rep. Mark Strama’s that was heard in committee a few weeks ago.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said the group is focusing on Davis’ and Strama’s bills because they’re the most comprehensive and have been carefully crafted over two years.

Testifying in support of Davis’ bill Tuesday will be David and Amy Truong, the parents of gay suicide victim Asher Brown. Also attending the committee hearing will be the parents of Montana Lance, who hung himself in the school nurse’s office in his elementary school in the Colony, and the parents of Jon Carmichael from Joshua. Jon was 13 when he committed suicide at home after school bullying. Montana was 9.

Senate committee hearings can be watched online here.

Friday’s Dallas Voice will feature a story about David and Amy Truong and how Asher’s suicide has changed their lives.

—  David Taffet