The Tragedies of Mentor - A Reason to Fix Anti-Bullying LegislationPresentation Transcript
The Tragedies of Mentor: A Reason to Fix Federal and the State of Ohio’s Anti-Bullying Legislation Michael T. Muha Regulatory Law April 4, 2011
Why Should We Care?
Where Are We Right Now?
How Mentor Could Have Been Prevented
Why Should We Care?
Bullying Statistics Source: Data from Table 11.2 in Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009; National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education (http://nces.ed.gov/).
The Mentor Tragedies Eric Mohat, Sladjana Vidovics, Meredith Rezak, and Jennifer Eyring all committed suicide in little over than two years. The family of Eric is suing Mentor on multiple counts including violations of their procedural and substantive Due Process rights of familial relationship and failing to properly train teachers and officers pursuant to Monell v. Dept. of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Source: Mohat v. Mentor Exempted Village School District , 2010 WL 359693 (2009).
The tragedies that occurred in Mentor High School could have been prevented. While federal law has done a great service for students who suffer from discrimination because of their race, gender, or disability, federal education law lacks a protection against homosexuality and gender identity.
Also, state anti-bullying law, especially Ohio’s, fails to address several provisions other states have codified that could have been useful in the Mentor Exempted Village School District prior to the four suicides that occurred in Mentor High School.
The following presentation will identify these provisions in hope that they will be adopted to protect LGBT and other students from being bullied and committing suicide as a result.
Where Are We Right Now? Stage 1 Free Market Stage 2 Market Failure *Stage 3* Government Regulation Stage 4 Regulatory Failure Stage 5 Regulatory Reform Stage 6 Deregulation
Vectors of Influence
The Federal Government’s Role
Currently, the federal government only enforces bullying that is related to discrimination violations of…
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (race, color, or national origin)
Title IX (sex)
Americans With Disabilities Act (disability)
These violations are investigated and enforced by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
At this time, there are no federal protections against bullying relating to the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a public school student.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA)
Sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), the SNDA would amend Title IX to include homosexuality and gender identity as categories protected by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2011 (SSIA)
Sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), SSIA is an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that requires states to collect information on the incidence, prevalence, and other factors regarding bullying and harassment by youth in elementary and secondary schools within their jurisdiction.
The SSIA also defines a national standard for bullying and harassment.
Bullying: “means conduct, including an electronic communication, that adversely affects the ability of one or more students to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational programs or activities by placing the student (or students) in reasonable fear of physical harm and includes conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.”
Harassment: “… because the conduct, as reasonably perceived by the student (or students) is so severe, persistent, or pervasive…”
It should also be noted that the SSIA contains a Rule of Construction that states that nothing in the legislation forbids a State or a local entity to enact any law relating to the prevention of bullying or harassment that is not inconsistent with the act itself.
Why Has It Taken So Long?
Up until the past two decades or so, the issues of homosexuality and gender confusion have been seen as very taboo.
Even to this day, many Americans see homosexual lifestyles as offensive and immoral.
As a result, it has been difficult to enact legislation in certain areas of America to protect gays and lesbians.
Previously, the US Government has enacted hate crime legislation, dedicated to protecting gays and lesbians (the Matthew Shepard Act)
Recent events in Minnesota have sparked controversy among supporters of LGBT anti-bullying rights.
Then-Rep. Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have added homosexuality and gender confusion to the protected classes of discrimination under Minnesota state law.
The next year, four teens from the same school district, the largest in MN, committed suicide due to anti-gay bullying.
What Does A Normal State Anti-Bullying Law Look Like?
11 categories include: Scope, Specification of Prohibited Conduct, Enumeration of Specific Characteristics, Development of Policies, Components of Policies, Referrals, Review of Local Policies, Training, Transparency, and Statement of Rights to Other Legal Recourse
What Are State Governments Doing?
In 2005, only 17 states had anti-bullying legislation on the books.
Today, there are 45 states. MI, HI, MT, ND, & SD do not have anti-bullying legislation at this time.
According to bullypolice.org, the State of Ohio has an A rating.
Ohio’s Anti-Bullying Legislation
ORC 3301.22 – “The state board of education shall develop a model policy to prohibit harassment, intimidation, or bullying in order to assist school districts in developing their own policies under ORC s. 3313.666.”
ORC 3313.666 – Defines bullying, harassment, and intimidation. Creates procedures and strategies for school districts to follow.
This legislation does NOT include any enforcement mechanism or punishment attached to any public school districts for a failure to comply.
This legislation also does NOT specifically identify any protected classes, including homosexuality.
Eric Mohat was bullied by his peers.
Math teacher sued; most of the bullying occurred in his class and Eric complained to him several times about bullying.
Bully told Eric to kill himself in front of math teacher.
Other administrators knew or should have known about bullying because Eric complained about it on a social networking page that was monitored by school officials and one administrator was seen to have noticed Eric crying in hallway on day of suicide and did nothing to help him.
Defendants should have known bullying was an issue at high school because of two previous suicides that were allegedly bullying-related.
Source: Mohat v. Mentor Exempted Village School District
Comm. Director confirmed that there had been “several” student suicides in the “last couple of years,” but he said that they had no connection to bullying. Claimed the school had “come a long way” in combating bullying and addressing “social sensitivities.”
“ We don’t believe it’s a problem. We have a program of anti-bullying education to raise awareness for students about what constitutes bullying and differences among students.”
Source: Susan Donaldson James. Teen Commits Suicide Due to Bullying: Parents Sue School for Son’s Death. ABC News. April 2, 2009
What Does the Mentor Situation Mean?
In my professional view, the tragedies at Mentor constitute a failure of Mentor to properly address the bullying-related suicides with any state-mandated anti-bullying policy.
We can debate whether Mentor should be liable for the student suicides at another time, but it is quite clear that Mentor was ignorant of the problems their students were having.
What Does Mentor Mean? (cont.)
The law passed by the State of Ohio is clearly NOT strong or efficient enough to actually accomplish its goal in preventing bullying.
The Ohio law lacks specific guidelines that local school districts need to properly address bullying.
School district-centric policies risk situations like Mentor. Without a proper regulatory scheme led by state or federal officials, a school district may have no accountability for failure to address bullying problems.
How Mentor Could Have Been Prevented
New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights includes several major provisions that could have been beneficial to the students at Mentor High that are absent from the law in Ohio.
New Jersey’s State Board of Education mandates that all NJ school districts include an anti-bullying specialist, provide suicide prevention training to their faculty and staff, bullying training to school board members, and creating disclipinary action for any administrator who fails to address any bullying complaint.
How Do We Do It?
Ohio should amend their law to add provisions similar to those from NJ.
There also needs to be a stronger effort by both the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Ohio Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division in enforcement of these anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws.
Under the “incentive approach,” the Ohio Department of Education could offer additional funding to those schools that adopt other policies that see a drop in school bullying.
It is my professional view that Ohio’s anti-bullying law is inadequate.
The tragedies at Mentor High could have been averted if Ohio had a stronger anti-bullying law in the vein of New Jersey and federal law was amended to protect the discrimination and harassment of gays, lesbians, and gender confused public school students.
Anti-bullying laws cannot possibly be the only defense for bullied children and adolescents, but our society should strive for laws that will adequately reflect the situations that arise in our public school system.