According to StopBullying.gov, almost 160,000 students have skipped school to avoid bullies. Moreover, the Pew Research Center found that 59% of teens said they’d been bullied online. State and local governments combat bullying with legislation. Alabama’s Jamari Williams Act seeks to stop social and online bullying. But is Alabama’s anti-bullying law working?
What Is the Jamari Williams Act?
The Jamari Williams Act is named after a Montgomery student who died of suicide after being bullied. Jamari’s mother created the Jamari Terrell Williams Foundation. The Foundation seeks “to let children know that it’s okay to be different.” They established a helpline for bullying victims. The Foundation also supports stricter anti-bullying laws. The Jamari Williams Act requires that schools create a “series of graduated consequences” for bullying. This includes incidents off and on school grounds. The Act includes both social and online bullying.
What Happened After the Act Became Law?
Alabama governor Kate Ivey signed the Act into law in 2018. Nearly two years later, the law hasn’t been fully implemented. Bullied students and their families feel frustrated by this delay. In an interview with WBRC, Edwinna Harris expresses this frustration. Her nine-year-old niece died of suicide after bullying. Since then, Harris has fought for stronger anti-bullying legislation. “There are so many kids being unrecognizably bullied,” she told WBRC, “and no one is taking action on it.”
Is Alabama’s Anti-Bullying Law Enough?
Like most anti-bullying laws, the Jamari Williams Act focuses on punishment. Experts say these punitive laws aren’t fully effective. Such laws address bullying after it happens instead of keeping it from happening. Also, psychologist Izzy Kalmon explains that punishing a bully can cause more harm than good. For example, say a student reports their peer during class. The teacher quickly punishes the bully. However, the bully could later retaliate against the victim. This disturbs a safe learning environment. It also removes the opportunity to teach positive values. In fact, studies have shown that zero-tolerance policies sometimes do more harm than good.
Prevention: The Key to Ending Bullying
Prevention tactics can solve the problem before bullying even occurs. Evidence-based programs educate students about the harm bullies can cause. Teachers can work anti-bullying activities into learning modules. School administrators should train teachers to notice signs of bullying in the classroom. Groups like Tiny Be Mighty and the Mackenzie Foundation also offer bullying prevention workshops. Additionally, schools should consider content-monitoring software. LearnSafe helps schools to identify at-risk behavior, including cyberbullying. This allows administrators to protect vulnerable students by intervening before a problem starts.
Text by Kassie Roberts