BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -This week is the start of national Anti-Bullying Awareness month, an ideal time for the state of Alabama to roll out its new anti-bullying guidelines required by the new law passed last spring. But we found all the school districts in our area are still waiting for their instructions.
“I think it’s getting worse with our students,” says Laura Angel, counselor at Maxwell Elementary School in Tuscaloosa. “They’re availability to communicate with each other outside the school building.”
Texting and social media are expanding what was once only a problem on school grounds into a 24/7 possibility of harassment that can make it impossible for your child to escape. That’s why anti-bullying advocates pushed for a new state law passed this spring that expands the state’s definition of harassment and the school’s responsibility to help to include bullying and even cyberbullying, whether it happens on or off school grounds.
“We really want to empower that bystander so they are able to stand up to the bully, stand up for the victim,” Angel says.
Maxwell Elementary started Anti-Bullying Awareness month this week with “Blue T-shirt day” to focus kids' attention on how to treat each other, and when to ask for help. The new state law requires every school to do an anti-bullying program at the start of each school year and update their anti-bullying policies following state guidelines. but we found the state still hasn’t sent those guidelines, almost 5 months after Governor Kay Ivey signed the law and at least a month after the law itself says it should be in place.
The new law also requires school systems to have a bullying complaint form “prominently posted” on school system’s websites, but we found local systems with a mixed grade on that.
On Hoover City Schools website it only takes 2 clicks to reach this form:
On Jefferson County Schools' site, you have to type bullying into the search bar, click another link, then open the PDF form or hover over the resources tab with your mouse to find the form.
On the Birmingham City Schools site, we typed bullying into the search bar and scrolled through 2 pages of results before eventually finding a link to the form. You can also reach it if you knew to look up the attendance department under the departments tab on the page.
Then there’s the Alabama Department of Education’s own website, whose list of anti-bullying policies were last updated in 2014.
This delay in following the new law comes at a time when counselors working in these schools say we need more attention, not less on this issue.
“It would be great for those smaller schools to receive some kind of state funding to have a counselor in every school," Angel says. "Because while the teachers and educators can do some of those bullying classroom lessons, it really is beneficial to have one person in your school that’s an expert in that field.”
The Department of Education this week tells WBRC it’s new anti-bullying guidelines have gone through legal vetting and are waiting for new state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey to approve them. Until then, the department’s director of communications is “hesitant to get into specifics.”