COLUMBIA - Bullying victims may soon have an additional forum to report harassment if a bill making its way through the House becomes law.
The hotline can be used to report incidents of bullying, abuse and gang activity, among other concerns. The report can be made anonymously by calling 877-250-2790.
The Report-A-Bully in School Website Act received unanimous approval by a House education subcommittee on Tuesday. It was introduced by Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, in an effort to curtail bullying in South Carolina.
"Bullying is a problem everywhere," Limehouse said. "Report-A-Bully is not going to be the panacea for all of our harassment issues but it will help."
Limehouse said he introduced the legislation because everyone has a bullying story - even as adults. But the issue has garnered much attention in recent years, especially when a child takes his or her life because of bullying.
"This is a young, vulnerable, tender age and hopefully my legislation will help us cut through that," Limehouse added.
The bill calls for schools to build an in-house website that allows for kids to report when they witness or are victims of a bullying incident. The school would be required to investigate every allegation and report whether the investigation is pending or resolved.
"We applaud any effort as long as the report can help the child get the help they need," said Bridget Laird, chief executive officer of WINGS for kids, a non-profit educational organization that seeks to develop children's social and emotional intelligence.
Laird added that kids could benefit from the website, once they learn that it's a safe way to report incidents. She said not many kids are mean-hearted; they just get caught up in situations where they feel like they have to fit in.
Charleston County School District is working on developing a tool for teachers and counselors to report bullying incidents, but it hasn't rolled out yet, said Amy Neloms, director of school guidance for the district. The district also already has a hotline that has been around for several years. It allows parents, children or bystanders to call a number and report an incident anonymously, she said.
"I think that it gives them a way to voice their opinion and also make them feel that they're not a snitch either," Neloms added.
She said the anonymity aspect of the hotline helps kids, especially older ones, step up without facing potential ramifications from their peers.
Limehouse said, however, complete anonymity can't be had online, because it could lead to abuse of the site. He compared anonymity on the reporting site to that of commenters on the web. It can get "outrageous," he said. But he hopes kids realize the website can be a tool that can make their school experience safe and happy.
"This is a policy that we can make that can greatly benefit our children's education," Limehouse said. "Anything that we can do to make our children's time in school more productive, it's going to help our entire state."
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-708-5891.