School districts across Maryland are being asked this week to engage in discussions and activities addressing the issue of school bullying after several recent high-profile cases in Baltimore and the nation.
Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick have designated May 24-28 as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.
O'Malley, along with state education officials, will kick off the week Monday morning with a visit to Pikesville Middle School. Pikesville students and school officials will present programs the school developed to prevent and intervene in cases of school bullying and harassment.
O'Malley and Grasmick sent a letter to all district superintendents earlier this month asking that all schools participate in some form of bullying and harassment prevention.
The case of Phoebe Prince, a freshman who hanged herself in January after she was relentlessly bullied at her Massachusetts high school, brought the dangers of bullying to national attention. Last month, nine of her classmates were arraigned in her death.
"With the incident in Massachusetts, and what's been going on in our own state, the first lady felt that it was important to do something before school ends," said Christine Hansen, O'Malley's spokeswoman. "It's about making people pay more attention, and not forgetting about the issue because it's the summer months."
Just weeks after the arraignments in Massachusetts, the mother of a Baltimore City third-grader said that her 8-year-old daughter threatened to kill herself and attempted to jump out of a window to escape bullies at Gilmor Elementary School. Baltimore City school officials said the girl's teacher reported that the student only said she wanted to commit suicide.
The girl has cerebral palsy and was attacked by a group of three students, who school officials said were suspended from Gilmor after the incident.
The school system is also facing a $10 million lawsuit after the grandmother of a 9-year-old Baltimore student claimed her grandson tried to hang himself in his special education classroom at Leith Walk Elementary School after he was bullied. The lawsuit, filed last month, also alleged that the boy's teacher took pictures with her camera phone before going to his aid.
Baltimore's school system has received 105 bullying complaints in the district this year, up from 79 at the same time last year. School officials attribute the increase to more awareness.
Maryland is considered a leader in anti-bullying strategies, with a history of legislative moves to curb bullying in schools.
In July 2005, the state implemented the Safe Schools Reporting Act, a law that requires a form be used to submit complaints of intimidation and bullying.
In 2008, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill that requires the state school system to establish bullying prevention policies for all Maryland public schools.
That year, the state board of education adopted a model policy prohibiting bullying, harassment or intimidation in schools. It also requires proper reporting of bullying and prohibits retaliation.
In the latest policy report, of the 118,834 suspensions/expulsions in Maryland's 24 public school systems during the 2007-2008 school year, 1,257 were for bullying.