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March 09, 2018

Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to fine parents of serial bullies

This past week, a Virginia father made national news for the methods he used to punish his son when the boy got in trouble for bullying other students.

After Bryan Thornhill's son was kicked off the school bus for three days for harassing other children, the dad forced is son to run to school — in the rain — and chalked up his methods of discipline to "old school, simple parenting."

Proposed legislation from Pennsylvania state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, doesn't outline how parents should deal with bullying, and certainly doesn't require them to institute a new exercise routine. However, it would impose penalties on parents whose children are cited for bullying on multiple occasions.

"When bullying isn’t properly addressed, verbal taunts and online postings can escalate to physical assaults or, in the worst cases, suicide," Burns wrote in a memo to fellow Pennsylvania lawmakers. "For this reason, we need to hold students, parents and officials at all levels accountable for remedying and preventing bullying."

One of the bills he plans on introducing would set up a three-strike system for parents. Schools would be required to notify parents of each bullying incident. After a second notification of their child bullying, parents would have to attend a parental class on bullying and a conference with school administrators to lay out a plan in order to prevent future incidents.

After a third incident within the same school year, schools would file a citation against the parents in court. Parents could face a fine up to $500 and/or community service.

Such legislation isn't unprecedented. In North Tonawanda, a New York town north of Buffalo, a law recently was enacted that imposes up to a $250 fine and 15-day jail sentence on parents if their child violates any city law, including bullying.

Pennsylvania is among the majority of states that already have both laws and policies on the books regarding bullying. In addition to the legislation punishing parents for repeated instances of bullying, Burns wants to add two more to the state code.

First, Burns proposes creating a statewide anonymous bullying reporting system, which would include a website that students, parents and teachers could access to file complaints. State education officials would have to follow up with school administrators for each incident, and if no action is taken, a school may be disciplined.

Second, Burns wants the Pennsylvania Department of Education to track bullying incidents and produce monthly reports, which would be made publicly available on the department's website.