9 Investigates: Does Florida's anti-bullying law protect children?

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Bullying is a big problem at schools here in Central Florida. Just a few months ago, Eyewitness News told the heartbreaking story of an Orange County girl who tried to kill herself in a school restroom to escape the torment.  

9 Investigates found out Florida does have an anti-bullying law. But some parents insist it simply has no teeth. Channel 9's Mike Manzoni went straight to a state lawmaker to ask if the law goes far enough to protect kids.  

Eyewitness News talked with an Orange County mother just days after she said bullying drove her daughter to swallow a bottle of pills in the school restroom.

Then that same mother came forward and told Eyewitness News about her autistic son's struggle with bullies, a constant battle that led him to talk about suicide all the time.

There is an anti-bullying law on the books in Florida. It's called the "Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act.” The law, which is named after a student who killed himself, forces public schools to come up with anti-bullying policies.

“Do you feel that they're adequate, that they're strong enough, or do you feel or do you think that there's more that the state can do?” Manzoni asked state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.

“I think we all need to go back and revisit things periodically,” Thompson told Manzoni. “I think we have good laws.”

But Thompson did say the law needed some work.

That's why she said state lawmakers made it stronger by forcing school districts to include cyberbullying in their policies and update those policies every few years.

“It bothers me a lot as a parent; it shouldn't have to be that way,” said Erica Aviles, the mother of the autistic boy who was bullied.

But Aviles argues that the existing laws did nothing to help her son. She said teachers must now escort her son from classroom to classroom just so he can avoid the bullies who nearly drove him to suicide.

“They do need to be tougher on the laws because these kids need to understand that this is not a game,” Aviles said. “You're messing with somebody's life."

Thompson maintains that laws will only do so much to stop bullies. She said it's time to change the culture in schools to help address the bullying problem.

Contact Mike Manzoni for more on this story.

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