Bullying in Tennessee is a misdemeanor as of July 1

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Bullying in Tennessee is a misdemeanor as of July 1

By Tori Gessner

NASHVILLE, TN (WKRN) — A change in Tennessee law that formally defines bullying and cyberbullying and ensures the acts would be treated the same as harassment will go into effect July 1.

The amendment, HB 2590, expands the offense of harassment to include bullying and cyberbullying, according to the language in the legislation, and it will require law enforcement to notify the victim’s parents and/or guardians of the bullying situation at school if the victim is a minor.

“There’s an enormous amount of shame that comes from the impact of bullying,” Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of Students Taking A Right Stand (STARS) Nashville.

Through STARS Nashville, Dinwiddie provides children and youth fair access to prevention, intervention, and treatment services in schools and communities. According to Dinwiddie, 17 to 20 percent of youth are regularly involved with bullying, whether they’re the bully, the victim, or in some cases, both.

Dinwiddie told News 2 schools are already required to notify parents of a bullying situation in most cases, so the change in the law likely won’t have a big impact on that front. However, he does have concerns over whether categorizing bullying and cyberbullying s Class A misdemeanors will impede school officials from reporting it.

“Tennessee code annotated does require that administrators and/or their designee report bullying when it happens, so I hope that doesn’t deter because of the risk of a possible Class A [misdemeanor] and also because of a potential $2,500 fine,” Dinwiddie said.

Dinwiddie said he also would’ve liked to have seen some preventative, educational measures included in the amendment, but because of the harsh punishment, he believes classifying bullying and cyberbullying as Class A misdemeanors could deter bullies from bullying in the first place.

“Right now the consequences for bullying vary so greatly, albeit schools have some sort of standards of what they’re required to do, this definitely adds something to the mix that was not there prior to the end of the 23-24 school year,” Dinwiddie said.

During the legislative session, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) told lawmakers she was concerned about the possibility of a school or law enforcement officer unknowingly outing an LGBTQ child being bullied due to the requirement to notify parents of victims under the law change.

“If a child was being bullied for being LGBTQ, and this gets back to their parents,” Johnson said. “I had a friend who at 17 was outed by someone at school and his parents kicked him out of the house and he had to live with other folks. My concern is those situations where the parents having the knowledge could be very problematic for the child.”

Rep. Lowell Russell, (R-Vonore), the bill’s sponsor, argued the law change could save lives.

“Violence or suicides do happen because of [bullying], and even if we have some unintended consequences, ultimately our goal is to protect kids, and this is the only way I know how to do it,” Russell said. House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) agreed there is value in notifying a parent about a bullying situation. (Tennessee Tribune Staff)