In a controversial move, the city of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, has outlawed bullying and harassment — and it will hold parents accountable if their child is found guilty of the offense. The new law was approved this summer by the city council and is supported by both the school district and local police department, Education Week reports.
The ordinance also forbids retaliation for reporting an incident, with the first offense carrying a penalty of $50 (or, with court costs, about $313), though parents will receive written warnings before citations are issued.
Other towns have similar laws, including North Tonawanda, New York, where parents are held accountable for their child’s bullying via a fine of $250 or up to 15 days in jail. In New Jersey, a proposed Senate bill would impose civil liability on parents and force them to take anti-bullying classes with their child, alongside a potential $100 fee.
The idea of holding parents financially accountable for their children’s bullying or other offenses is controversial. In Wisconsin Rapids, the ordinance divided the town between the proponents of fines and those who believe parents shouldn’t be held responsible for their children’s actions.
This isn’t Wisconsin’s first rule requiring parents to pay for such mistakes: They're also penalized and held financially responsible if their child commits crimes that damage property, cause personal harm or involve theft.
Like parents, schools can also be held accountable for bullying. But cyberbullying has also blurred lines, with social media enabling bullies to wreak havoc on the emotional lives of their victims 24/7. During the day, districts must now prevent both cyber- and face-to-face bullying. But after the school day ends, it’s parents who are on the hook.
Parents of victims have an important role to play, as well. Parent involvement is thought to be a protective factor against depression and suicidal ideation, with students who feel their parents are involved in their lives being less likely to feel the negative emotional effects of bullying.