Parents of children found bullying other minors could face jail time under a new law approved in a western New York community. Victoria Crago began advocating for the law in North Tonawanda, New York, after she said her eighth-grade son was attacked by a classmate right in front of her. “This young man just sucker-punched him right in the face and hit him as hard as he could,” she told ABC News of the May incident. “What really alarmed me about the situation was the brazen act of violence in front of a parent.”
Crago said “It was really traumatic for both of us.” The student accused of attacking Crago’s son was charged with third-degree assault. His case was transferred to family court and he is now working with a probation officer, court records show. The probation officer did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Crago created a Facebook page to call out pervasive bullying in her town. The outrage made public by Crago’s Facebook group prompted lawmakers to pass the anti-bullying law that puts pressure on parents.
Parents could be fined $250 and sentenced to 15 days in jail, according to North Tonawanda City Attorney Luke Brown. Parents could face punishment if their child violates the city’s curfew or any city law, including bullying, twice over the course of 90 days. “In reality, what we’re looking for is to engage the parents in the process and try and work on a solution,” Brown said.
The new law is modeled after a similar push in Wisconsin to hold parents accountable, according to Brown. The law went into effect in North Tonawanda Oct. 1. “We hope to never need to use this law but it’s there in extreme cases,” North Tonawanda City School District Superintendent Greg Woytila said. “But we need to do a better job and we are continually trying to do that.”
Nearly 30 percent of students from sixth- to 12th-grade say they have been bullied, according to StopBullying.gov, a bullying prevention and awareness website run by the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice. Bullying is most common in middle school, the website reports.
Andrea Ortiz is one parent who hopes the law will be effective in changing parents’ behavior. Ortiz, who said her own 12-year-old daughter has been a victim of bullying, commented about the law on the North Tonawanda Coalition for Safe Schools & Streets’ Facebook page. “I just feel that this has been talked over and over. You can’t make parents parent their kid. You use to but now a days..,” she wrote.
Crago hopes the new law sends a clear message to parents that they will pay the price for their kids’ behavior. “Watching your child harmed in front of you is a terrible thing,” she said. “I don’t wish it on anyone.”