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OP-ED: Failure to comply with 2023 bullying legislation has deadly consequences

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Earlier this month, ten-year-old Sammy Teusch died by suicide. The fourth-grade student was the victim of bullying at Greenfield Intermediate School. Despite nearly 20 attempts by the Teusch family to express their concerns about the treatment of their son at school, the bullying persisted, and Sammy lost his life.  

As an educator and mentor in my district, I am heartbroken for this child and his family. The death of this young man is nothing less than a tragedy, and a preventable one at that. Had the appropriate measures been taken by his school, he may still be with us today.

Over the weekend, students, parents and activists came together in Greenfield in protest to demand better anti-bullying legislation. During the 2023 legislative session, I authored House Enrolled Act 1483 to change reporting requirements for schools in cases of bullying, mandating that school administrators notify parents of the children being bullied and the parents of the perpetrator within a certain timeframe. This law expressly requires that the safety of the bullied child must be prioritized, so if parental notification and mediation measures fail, the perpetrator is removed from the school. According to the Teusch family, they and every other family they spoke to were not made aware of a system to report until after their son’s tragic death. What Indiana needs is not an entirely new law, but to enforce what we already have. I find it concerning that the school corporation acknowledged the family made them aware of the bullying situation and yet the victim of the bullying was not protected the way HEA 1483 mandated. 

Too often, young people take their own lives because they're being bullied. They feel like there's no escape. HEA 1483 was named after Terry Bader III, an Indiana middle schooler who died by suicide after experiencing repeated bullying. This law is meant to prevent more children from losing their lives. But when schools fail to follow procedure, we are met with tragedy. School administrators must take the issue of bullying seriously and give it priority within their schools. It simply cannot be ignored the way it was in the tragic situation that led to the death of a child earlier this month. 

Bullying runs rampant in our schools, and the effects of that push our children into desperate situations. Had the school intervened, we may have seen a very different outcome in this case. Schools should be a safe place for our children to learn and grow, not be subjected to daily torment from their peers.

Bullying is a multifaceted issue; while the overall goal is to eliminate bullying from Indiana schools, we must also empower our children to have a strong sense of self. When children are minimized and made to feel powerless, they may take drastic action to escape the situation. From my experience as an educator, we need to provide support and resources to Hoosier students to build a strong self-concept. If students have confidence in how they see themselves, it makes the effects of having self-perception challenged by school bullies less catastrophic. Ultimately, however, the onus is on schools to intervene and enforce disciplinary measures to prevent situations where school becomes an inescapable hostile environment. 

The question we must be asking ourselves is: are schools following the law when addressing instances of bullying?  Our schools must be held accountable to ensure tragedies like this never happen again. Failing to follow procedure puts children's lives at risk, and we cannot allow such oversights to happen. Additionally, the state must adequately fund our public schools so that resources such as counselors and social workers are available to the students who need it.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, know that you are not alone. For information about mental health resources in Indiana, visit Be Well Indiana or call the crisis hotline at 211 to speak with a trained professional 24/7. 

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