Two state delegates from Northern Virginia say schools and local law enforcement need to do more to discourage and punish bullying.
State Delegate Adam Ebbin of Alexandria says his concern about bullying has been growing for some time.
But he says it didn't crystallize until he heard about the suicide of York County 16-year-old Christian Taylor last May. Taylor's mother blamed her son's suicide on relentless bullying in school.
"A sheriff's spokesman said there is no bullying statute in the state of Virginia, so we're not investigating a crime," Ebbin says. "This is outrageous, it must be changed."
A bill Ebbin has filed defines bullying as recklessly endangering the health or well-being of another student, whether through direct physical contact, over the internet, or through other communication technology.
The bill would make it a criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in prison. It would also give victims the right to sue.
State Delegate David Englin, who represents the neighboring district, is introducing a bill forcing schools to have more detailed procedures for dealing with bullying incidents.
The bill's definition of bullying also includes intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation, something he knows may make the bill harder to pass.
"No bill passes the way that it was entered, but I'm not willing to cede that fight in advance," Englin says. "Somebody has to stand up for kids being bullied on the basis of sexual orientation."
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that approximately 160,000 children across the country skip school each day because of bullying fears.