David's Law: One year later

By Cathy Tatom - Investigative Producer

HOUSTON - With school back in full swing, keeping students safe on campus and off is top of mind.

Keeping them safe when texting or using social media on-campus or off is the goal of David's Law. It is named for David Molak, an Alamo Heights teen that committed suicide after a being cyberbullied.

David's Law went into effect Sept. 1, 2017.

It protects children against cyberbullying in many ways by requiring public schools to adopt a policy that, among other things:

  • Prohibits the bullying of any student.
  • Prohibits retaliation against victims, witnesses or another person who in good faith provides information about bullying incidents.
  • Requires the notification of the alleged victim’s parent or guardian on or before the third business day after the incident is reported.
  • Requires that the parent or guardian of the alleged bully is notified within a reasonable amount of time after an incident.
  • Establishes the actions a student should take to get assistance and intervention in cases of bullying.
  • Establishes procedures for anonymously reporting bullying.
  • Prohibits disciplinary measures against a student found to be the victim of bullying that used reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying.

Serenity is starting high school this year. She told Channel 2 Investigates that during middle school, hateful social media posts and nasty text messages, some from kids she didn't even know made her consider suicide.

"When I first started middle school I was getting threats like, I'm gonna beat you up, or like, you ugly, and your skin color is extra dark and nobody will like you," she said.

When it first started she said, "I was just like I was embarrassed so I didn't want to tell anybody about it. I just kept it in."

Over time, she chronicled the pain of being cyberbullied in her journal.

"Sometimes at nighttime I would come in my room and write in my journal or I would start crying because I have in my head like over and over, you ugly, you ugly," Serenity said.

One passage stunned her mother Melquita, "It was very intense."

Serenity had written, "Sometimes I wish I can kill myself because at times I be mad at life and be ready to give up on it." "They not gonna be satisfied 'til I'm dead."

Melquita said, "They should feel safe going to school."

David's Law arms schools and school districts with tools to keep students safer by making reporting cyberbullying easier, and letting schools investigate off-campus incidents if those impact what's happening at school. It also allows schools to get law enforcement involved. In at least half a dozen cases, students have been charged with crimes stemming from cyberbullying investigations including one in HISD and two in Dickinson ISD where the students are now facing felony charges. But, David’s Law does not require schools to report incidents of cyberbullying to the Texas Education Agency for tracking how often they occur or what schools did when cyberbullying incidents were substantiated.

Over the summer, Channel 2 Investigates asked a wide variety of school districts across our viewing area how many cyberbullying incidents they had reported or investigated during the first year David's Law's was on the books.

Because the law did not set up a standardized tracking system many districts were able to tell us the total number of bullying complaints they received, but not break out those specifically involving cyberbullying. Some districts were able tell us how many incidents they investigated at the elementary, middle and high school level and others were able to say what consequence cyberbullies faced. The one thing every district could tell us was that they now have a system in place to let students, parents and staff report suspected bullying.  

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices, such as cellphones, computers and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through text messaging and apps, or online in social media, forums or games in which people can view, participate in or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else, causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs:

  • Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
  • Text messages sent through devices.
  • Instant messages via devices, email provider services, apps and social media messaging features).
  • Email.

Frequency of cyberbullying:

The 2014-2015 School Crime Supplement from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that, nationwide, about 21 percent of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying.

The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that an estimated 16 percent of high school students were bullied electronically in the 12 months prior to its survey.

Signs your child/teenager may be the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Becomes upset, sad or angry during or after using the internet or a cellphone.
  • Withdraws from family or friends.
  • Expresses reluctance or refuses to participate in activities previously enjoyed.
  • Has an unexplained decline in grades.
  • Refuses to go to school or expresses anger or dissatisfaction with a specific class or school in general.
  • Increasingly reports symptoms of illness for which he or she wants to stay at home.
  • Shows signs of depression or sadness.

Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.