Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed two bills into law designed to curtail student suicides and increase prevention efforts.
Senate Bill 1117, introduced by Virginia state Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William County), requires school counselors to receive training in bullying and suicide prevention in order to renew their state licenses.
“We lost our younger brother 18 years ago. He was a junior in high school,” McPike said. “So this is something that is very near and dear to our hearts.”
House Bill 1709, introduced by Virginia House Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), directs schools to notify parents within five days if their child is involved in a bullying incident.
During the signing, Filler-Corn introduced 17-year-old Brandon Farbstein, whose personal experiences with bullying encouraged her to champion the legislation. Farbstein has a rare form of dwarfism and says the bullying began for him when he entered high school in the Richmond area. He became a motivational speaker who has appeared in TED Talks to advocate for people with disabilities, but that seemed to fuel cruel social media posts.
"One was, 'If this midget doesn't kill himself, I'm going to kill him,'" he said.
As his profile grew, his situation worsened.
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"Until the point where I was in school, I couldn't go to the restroom because I felt I was in so much physical danger," he said.
School administrators knew of the bullying but found it hard to investigate, to identify the culprits, his parents said.
Farbstein eventually turned to online classes, but he and his family also took their concerns to Filler-Corn.
“With the signing of this bill, HB 1709, it is my hope that fewer Virginians will have to go through what Brandon did,” Filler-Corn said. “Every student has a right not only to learn, but to thrive in their school environment.”
The bills were signed at Forest Park High School in Prince William County in recognition of students there who organize a suicide awareness march every year to bring attention to the issue.
“Our goal is to make sure that when a student comes to our schools they’re safe,” McAuliffe said. “They’re protecting psychological, emotional and physical aspects of a student. We want students to come to school to focus on education and not be worrying about people bullying.”