By Marc Kovac
As a sixth-grader, David Mullane II had a mouth full of braces, a lack of self-confidence and an eighth-grade bully who picked on him on the bus.
But Mullane, who now serves as assistant principal at Austintown Middle School, had two other things working in his favor: “A substantially large best friend who made it perfectly clear to this other student that I was to be left alone, and more importantly, I had the clock” he said. “At 2:55 p.m., I stepped off of the bus and walked away from the harassment.”
Mullane offered the comments during testimony earlier this week before the Ohio Senate’s Education Committee, as a proponent of Senate Bill 127, legislation that would give school districts more power to discipline students for cyber bullying — using the Internet and electronic devices to send threatening or demeaning messages to other students away from the classroom.
“Rumors, hateful comments and embarrassing images can be distributed to hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a matter of seconds,” Mullane said.
SB 127, sponsored by Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, is named in memory of Jessica Logan, an Ohio teen who committed suicide in July 2008 after being subjected to online bullying.
Among other provisions, the legislation would require schools to include cyber bullying in their anti-harassment policies and to train teachers and staff to better understand how to handle the issue.
Additionally, the bill would require districts to establish systems for accepting anonymous reports of cyber bullying and take steps to protect the victims involved, said Christopher Berni, principal of Austintown Middle School, who also testified at the Statehouse.
“What is lacking [in existing law] is a clear definition of the parameters to which school officials can respond,” Berni said. “I support SB 127 because it defines district responsibilities and affords school officials a reasonable scope for responding to such incidents.”