Bullying Experts: Anti-bullying law doesn't apply in Jessica Laney case

7:14 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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Hudson, Florida- Several days after Fivay High School student Jessica Laney, 16, committed suicide, some people are asking why the state's anti-bullying law did not help protect her.

The law is called Jeff's law, and it's named after Jeff Johnston a Southwest Florida teen who hanged himself in 2005 after being bullied at school and on line.

Jeff's Law applies to students in public schools, but in this case, Pasco school district officials say the law does not apply. 

"They could find no evidence she had reported being bullied, or that anyone observed her being bullied on school grounds," said Ray Gadd, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Operations for Pasco County Schools.

"I wish she had asked for help; nobody knew," says 14-year-old Camree Hamilton, Jessica's friend. 

Camree said Jessica never complained about being bullied at school, but that postings on ask.FM may have been too much. 

"They were saying she was fat, worthless, nobody cared about her..." said Camree.  

She believes Jessica was being cyber bullied, "and maybe there was stuff at home she couldn't take."

Bullying experts and school district officials say the state's anti-bullying law does not apply in Jessica's case because the cyber bullying is not school related and the bullying was never reported.

Gadd said, "There's law and there's moral responsibility, and if we had been made known this girl was being bullied on cyber space, we would have been incumbent to call her parents."

Attorney and Stetson law professor David Tirella helped push Jeff's Law through the legislature. 

"If you never tell the school and then you get hurt then the school is not liable," explained Tirella.

Once a bullying complaint is made, state law gives schools 10 days to conduct an investigation. 

"The school system has to do a whole bunch of things: contact the victim's parents, contact the bully's parents, contact law enforcement if they think it's potential for criminal, bring in a counselor and start therapy," explained Tirella. 

He added that the district must also provide a written investigation.

In Jessica's case, bullying expert Tirella said the postings on Ask.FM probably would not hold up in criminal court. 

"There has to be a pattern- like chronic over time threatening, harassing, humiliating electronic communications. Not one, not two," he said. 

Tirella does agree the words anonymously posted could be hurtful. 

"She does sound like she was being psychologically and mentally abused, but I don't' see how you could prove it criminally based on the law."

Despite the laws, a young life has been lost and cruel words may have played a part. 

Camree wears a green, white and orange rubber bracelet in memory of her friend Jessica.  

"It says Stomp Out Bullying. I bought it for her. I don't think anybody should be bullied."

School district officials say Jessica's suicide is the most recent. There have been three student suicides since 2010. 

District officials are asking why, and what the school system can do to help prevent another student from taking their own life.

Isabel Mascarenas

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