Is Alabama’s new anti-bullying law working?

Stop the Bullying: Special Report
9-year old McKenzie Adams took her own life in December after her family says she was bullied.
9-year old McKenzie Adams took her own life in December after her family says she was bullied.
Updated: Feb. 27, 2019 at 12:02 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Alabama’s new anti-bullying law is supposed to make it easier for school systems to track, stop, and prevent bullying, but our On Your Side Investigation found it’s not yet in effect statewide, almost a year after being signed into law.

“There are so many kids being unrecognizably bullied and no one is taking action on it,” says Edwinna Harris. Her niece McKenzie Adams, 9, of Demopolis, took her own life in December, and her family says it was because of bullying.

“That policy and procedure which was passed June 1st, was not implemented,” Harris says. “They only talked about harassment, there’s no way to report harassment, no apps the kids could call. Because when you’re in the face of your bully you’re not gonna go tell somebody “Oh hey, I’m being bullied.” Because once you go back, the bully’s gonna jump you.”

The law she’s referring to is the Jamari Williams Act; named for a 10-year old Montgomery boy who took his own life in 2017. It expands the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying and bullying that takes place off campus. The law’s supporters say it gives schools more responsibility in disciplining bullies and stopping harassment or bullying before it leads to another tragedy.

The new law also requires each school system to update the way it tracks and reports bullying cases using guidance from the state department of education.

But when we investigated this law last fall all of the local schools we talked to were still waiting for the state.

Even though the bill became law June 1st, the state didn’t post its new anti-bullying guidance to its website until December 19th, and all but one of the local systems we talked to are still in the process of putting it into action. To be fair, all of the systems we surveyed say they already included most of this and the bullying complaint form in their system.

“It didn’t affect us too much because we took bullying seriously here in Tuscaloosa County Schools so we were following all of our previous guidelines, and some of the new things that are out in the Jamari Terrell Williams Act we were practicing on our own because it made good sense,” says Dr. Antonio Cooper, the Coordinator of Student Services for Tuscaloosa County Schools. "We wanted to provide the support that all of our students needed, everyone deserves to learn in a safe environment because research shows you can’t learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe. "

Families of bullying victims say they’re tired of waiting, they’re acting on their own.

“We have to have workshops,” Harris says. “The tiny be mighty and the Mckenzie Foundation will be going around offering workshops to the students, to the teachers, to the parents because if this is not fixed, if the healing process doesn’t start, these bullies grow up to be adult bullies. On jobs, domestic violence, you have to stop them, you have to call these bullies out.”

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