ANNAPOLIS — Sen. Michael Hough wants to hold school bullies accountable for their actions.
Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 78, that asks that county boards of education statewide, in response to bullying or other behavior that disrupts the “well-being of the school community,” require those who bully or otherwise harm others do the following, on a case-by-case basis:
- Apologize to those they harmed.
- Offer restitution (money, objects they stole or something similar) to those they harmed.
- Attend a conference with a parent or guardian and school staff.
- Modify their schedule so they are not attending the same class as the victim.
Hough’s proposal was heard by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. In an interview afterward, Hough said he has heard a lot about student discipline issues, both from teachers on the campaign trail and from his three children, who are all in Frederick County Public Schools.
This is Hough’s second attempt to take action against bullies. Last year, he proposed an amendment to a bill before the Senate that would have provided remediation in cases of bullying, but it failed.
With debate about the Kirwan Commission and education funding this session, the school environment needs to be included in that discussion, he said.
“To make sure our kids go to learn in a safe classroom, it’s really important,” Hough said. “Especially with the investments that we’re making, you can’t have one or two kids distracting and taking away from the whole classroom.”
His proposal, however, prompted a mixed reaction at the hearing.
Some, including Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Wicomico and Worcester), were supportive. She said bullying can cause problems throughout public schools.
“I consistently continue to hear from teachers and substitute teachers about the conditions in the classroom and the student behavior,” Carozza said. “And how the ... disruptive behavior of one or two students actually ends up affecting the school [and] student performance.”
A trio of people who testified, however, said that while Hough’s bill was in good faith, it didn’t fully address the issue, and restorative practices involve more than requiring the bully or aggressor to apologize or make up for their actions.
One of those who testified was Ande Kolp, executive director of the Arc of Maryland, a nonprofit that works with families who have children with developmental disabilities. Kolp said each case is different.
“In some cases, you look at the whole child’s situation,” Kolp said. “Have they had previous trauma? Are they currently in a trauma situation at home?”
Hough said he viewed the four requirements as a graduated list, with an apology being the first step and the modification of a student’s schedule as a last resort.
“I just want to make sure there are safety measures,” he said. “I kind of see that as a last step, where if a kid got assaulted in a class or something happened, you could separate them so a kid doesn’t have to go in every day and ... face some other kid who beat him up.”
Even with all the provisions, Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) said he was worried that Hough’s proposal, along with other similar laws, might “lack teeth” if local school boards aren’t required to enforce them. He said that it could be difficult to do so.
“It’s hard to mandate exactly how a professional should handle their daily activities,” Ellis said. “There’s so many conditions, there’s so many issues involved with conflict in the schools. So, for us to mandate how teachers and administrators deal with each specific situation, it is very difficult and it steps on their professional responsibility.”
Hough said he appreciated the testimony and discussion among senators and those who testified. Again, he said it’s an important issue given the Kirwan Commission and education funding.
“If we’re going to focus on classrooms, then we should really focus on the classroom environments,” he said. “Bullying and school discipline are a huge issue now.”