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Florida bill proposes funding private school for bullied public school students

Posted at 7:13 PM, Nov 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-30 13:43:51-05

A proposed bill in the Florida House of Representatives suggests public school children have the option to change schools if they're being bullied, including going to private school on the state's dime.

"I feel like instead of normalizing bullying, which feels like this is what is the purpose of doing something like it, why don’t they use those funds to really stop bullying in school?" said Johanna Castillo, who has two children in elementary school.

According to the Florida Department of Education's School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System, more than 47,000 public school students in the state say they were bullied or assaulted in some kind of way in the 2015-2016 school year. That number could be lower than the actual number of incidents.

House Bill 1 looks to address the issue of bullying by creating the Hope Scholarship Program to give students who have been bullied vouchers to go to private school or to be transported to another school district.

One Palm Beach County mother said Wednesday she thinks this is a great idea because her own daughter had to change middle schools after being bullied.

However, some say this approach won't solve the root of the problem.

“I don’t think I’m really on board with that bill," Castillo said. "I would prefer for them to go to those schools that have a lot of systematic bullying and really implement something that will help all the students. Not just one student.”

Lawyer Bill Bone says the program 'Do the Write Thing,' has directly addressed bullying in Palm Beach County public schools.

"This year alone over 30,000 middle school students will write an essay on the subject of violence, which includes bullying and other kinds of violence that are even worse," he said.

Bone said this bill's proposed program will also be expensive for the state.

"Through legislation to tell a parent that the solution is to take the child out of the school is in my opinion not the remedy," he said. "It’s what we’re doing now. It’s programs like Do the Write Thing and other anti-bullying programs that the school does.”

He said teachers and school administrators already take an active approach to combat bullying, which Do the Write Thing helps with by allowing the students to write about their experiences.

"They express those feelings to the teacher and the teacher then is empowered to do something about it, refer them to social services, address the problem on the spot," Bone said. "That’s the way it should be done, from the ground up. Not the legislature telling us that you get to take your kid out of school and put him into a private school or put him into another school and run away."

The bill made it through the House’s Pre K-12 Innovation Subcommittee with nine votes in favor of hte bill and five votes against it, but it still has several more steps to go through before becoming law.