David Molak tried to get away. He even transferred to a different school, but the cyberbullying continued. Then in January 2016, the 16-year-old from San Antonio took his own life. But because the bullying wasn’t physical, and there wasn’t enough evidence to meet the requirements of the Texas online harassment laws of the time, authorities couldn’t bring charges against the perpetrators. So David’s parents, with the help of state legislators, addressed those legal gaps to make sure David’s experience would never happen to another child.
Senate Bill 179, known as David’s Law, went into effect on September 1, 2017, and amended Texas Education Code Section 37.0832, with the goal of preventing all types of school-related bullying. David’s Law covers student bullying that takes place on school property or during school-sponsored or related activities, whether on or off school property. It also applies to bullying that occurs on a school bus or a vehicle used to transport students to or from school or school-sponsored or related activities.
David’s Law requires Texas school districts to include cyberbullying in their district policies and to adopt district-wide policies and procedures that prohibit all forms of bullying. It also calls for districts to protect students who report bullying. Further, procedures for notifying parents and guardians are required under the law, as are the actions that students should take to get help in response to bullying. David’s Law pushes for rehabilitation of the perpetrator, requiring that school districts make available counseling options not only for victims and witnesses, but also for perpetrators. The law states that students must be able to report bullying anonymously, and that procedures must be in place for investigating and verifying any reported incidents. David’s Law also prohibits disciplinary actions against a student victim who uses reasonable self-defense in response to bullying, and it requires that discipline for bullying a student with disabilities complies with federal law.
With the adoption of David’s Law, school officials must now report any incidents of bullying to the parent or guardian within three business days. Notice must also be provided to a parent or guardian of the alleged bully “within a reasonable amount of time after the incident.” Cyberbullying victims are now allowed to take their cases to court to seek injunctive relief against the perpetrator or, if that person is younger than 18, against the parent or guardian so that he or she will take action to stop the individual from cyberbullying.
Because of David’s Law, cyberbullying is now a punishable offense under the law. This is true even if the cyberbullying occurs off campus, as long as it interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or “substantially disrupts” the operation of a classroom, school or school-sponsored or related activity. Cyberbullies now face up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine. If the offender has a previous conviction, or if the victim was under 18 and was targeted with the intent to make the victim commit suicide or hurt themselves, the offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine. Cyberbullies can also be expelled or sent to an alternative school.
The Molak family has created David’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that hopes to end cyberbullying by educating communities about the harmful effects of cyber abuse, providing support for bullying victims, promoting kindness and supporting legislation that prohibits the cyberbullying of minors.
Since the passage of David’s Law, David’s Legacy Foundation has given tens of thousands of presentations to teachers, parents and students to spread the message about the dangers of bullying and cyberbullying. The Foundation also established the Don’t Bully Me project, which teams members of the legal community with victims of serious bullying to provide pro bono legal services. The Don’t Bully Me project has provided support to more than 100 families so far.
In addition, the foundation works to remind students and others of the importance of responsible electronic citizenship. Close to one million people have pledged to “never use a device as a weapon” by placing a David’s Legacy sticker on their phone or other electronic device.
The Molak family is working with state lawmakers to update David’s Law. Proposed amendments would allow for measuring bullying and cyberbullying to provide better oversight and identify schools that need extra help. In addition, schools could be required to teach suicide and substance prevention, along with digital citizenship.
In February 2019, a San Antonio family filed what may be the first lawsuit under David’s Law. The suit alleges a student at a San Antonio school was subjected to online harassment that made him a target for both students and school staff. Because of David’s Law, victims now have the legal backing necessary to put a stop to their harassment, and if warranted, receive restitution for their duress.