Kudos to State Rep. Mike Jacobs, Gov. Sonny Perdue and members of the Georgia Legislature. Jacobs got through a new anti-bullying measure, which Gov. Perdue has signed into law. Rep. Jacobs was spurred into action by the death last year of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera. Jaheem’s family said the Dunaire Elementary school student hanged himself at the family home after he was repeatedly bullied and tormented at school. Jacobs also took up a challenge leveled by yours truly during a DeKalb delegation forum last year. I asked who among them had the testicular fortitude to sponsor a measure to put some teeth into bullying legislation that simply did not go far enough. To their credit, Reps. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield and Mike Jacobs took up the gauntlet.
Operation Lead Director John Evans and I went to the Capitol to meet with Benfield and Jacobs early in the session offering suggestions for the measure. Regrettably, my passionate recommendation that parents be held responsible for their bad actor children was too harsh and by all accounts wouldn’t stand up to constitutional muster. But Evans’ suggestion of a notification requirement became a key component of the new anti-bullying law. Now school officials must report incidents of bullying to the parents of victims and violators alike or risk a misdemeanor charge. Some might argue it gives officials more paperwork, but what is a simple notification compared to saving a life, rehabilitating a misguided youth or saving a system hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits?
This anti-bullying legislation is a perfect example of lawmakers, common citizens and advocacy groups coming together across party lines and other considerations for the common good. Representive Jacobs, you see, is a Republican. Benfield a staunch Democrat. It didn’t matter. Jacobs and Benfield worked together with others in the legislature and the community to remedy a situation that has far reaching implications. Jaheem’s death brought DeKalb into the national spotlight. His mother appeared on The Oprah Show telling millions how teachers and administrators ignored her pleas. Under the new law, that should not happen again. It won’t be left to local jurisdictions whether they must report. It will be left to them how. All local school systems must adhere to the new law that requires notification. That is such a good thing.
Gerald Griggs, the attorney for the Herrera family was on hand for the bill signing along with community activist Willie Pringle, myself and Bill Nigut, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. Nigut thanked the governor and Jacobs for the measure. Jaheem’s mother, Basika Bermudez, smiled broadly as Gov. Perdue allowed Jaheem’s brother and sister to help him sign the bill into law. I smiled too, thinking though, they still should put the parents of the bad actors in jail, but you can’t win them all. The new anti-bullying law does move the ball down the field. As Attorney Griggs put it, “This is the first step in the long journey to end the terror that grips victims in the school house.” Yes, we’ve made some progress. Thanks, Rep. Jacobs. You done good. Real good and showed real testicular fortitude.
Steen Miles, The Newslady, is a retired journalist and former Georgia state senator. Contact Steen Milies at Steen@dekalbchamp.com.