About 300 Pasco County educators learned about a state law that requires them to report and address bullying incidents in their schools, a year after one student took his life after being harassed and another made an attempt.
The session was run by Brooks Ruminek, who is in charge of the Office of Safe Schools, a Department of Education office that tracks the mandatory reporting of bullying incidents. And she says the districts need to pay attention to bullying incident or it might cost them.
"All districts have a rather substantial amount of money that is at risk if they don't comply with the reporting requirements of the Jeffrey Johnston law," Ruminek said.
The law was passed in 2008 by the Legislature and is named for a Cape Coral student who took his life after years of harassment from a bully at school and online.
Pasco educators had told the state there were only 28 bully incidents for the district of 68,000 students, even though other districts reported hundreds or thousands of cases for the same period.
Earlier, Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the district doesn't have much of a bully problem because it steps in early, at the stage that she described as teasing and taunting.
"We try to stop and provide interventions so that we don't get to the case of what bullying is in state law," she said. "As soon as it comes into our walls, we are stopping it."
That view, relatives and friends of the two Pasco students say, contradicts their experience.
They say Kiefer Allan, 15, of Sunlake High, fatally shot himself after enduring abuse and threats on a school bus. Months later, Zachery Gray, then 17, and attending Zephyrhills High, hanged himself last year only after bullies subjected them to chronic torment. Gray now requires constant medical care.