Van de Putte: Back to School

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After a week back in school for most Texas students, it's an exciting time for many families, but not all. Bullying is a constant problem in schools in Texas and across the country, and State Senator Leticia Van de Putte is here to remind everyone of the new tools that schools have to fight for children.

Back to school can be such an exciting time. Families bustling around the school at back to school night, dropping off new school supplies, meeting new teachers. The night before the first day of school my kids would lay out new school clothes. They could barely sleep. But for some families, there will be no new school year. There will only be a memory of a school year gone wrong. These are the families of victims of bullying.

But we have all been bullied, right? I used to believe that too. But that was before I heard the stories of parents who had lost their child due to bullying. Make no mistake – we are not talking about a mere teasing. It may start as just ugly words, but then it gets worse. A child who had been put in a school toilet; a child punched repeatedly in a school bathroom; a child being stripped of clothing, duct-taped, and thrown in a garbage can. One horrible story after another. I have six children and cannot even imagine the hurt in my heart if any of these things had happened to any one of them.

Those stories motivated me to sponsor a new law in the last legislative session, House Bill 1942, that just went into effect with the new school year – a law that will give schools new tools to crack down on bullying.

As the courageous parents testified during the legislative process of passing the law, a dark sorrow was cast across the face of each mom and dad. But their determination shone through. I did not just feel sadness, but also inspiration. I cannot imagine even one day without one of my children. Yet, here these parents were at the Texas Capitol speaking before of a room full of people. Some shed tears in sympathy and some scowled with judgment. Despite the looks, these parents remained composed with purpose to make sure that their three-minute testimony did justice to the memory of their child. And it did.

The new law adds cyber-harassment to the definition of bullying, integrates awareness of and solutions for bullying into the school health curriculum, allows local school boards to transfer the bully to another classroom or campus (in consultation with the parent or guardian), and requires school districts to adopt and implement a bullying policy.

While it is not perfect, it is a start – and at the least, that's what we need, for we can no longer turn our heads and justify bullying as “all part of growing up.”

I am proud of this new law. It has done more than I had hoped. It has inspired schools around the state to rise above the minimum and do some amazing things to combat bullying. Schools are starting campaigns, creating apps for anonymous reporting, requiring training for employees, and holding rallies to raise awareness. I hope these things are happening in your child's school as well and I encourage you to find out.

Whoever wrote “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” must have been teased and not bullied. And if I could meet this person I would tell him that he got it wrong because I have heard the stories and seen the faces: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words have hurt too many.

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (District 26, Bexar County) sits on the Senate Education Committee.

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