She underwent several surgeries in the past year to straighten her legs and has walked without crutches for the past six months.

"She walks proud now," Biggus said. "When she goes to school, whether it's a good or bad day, she goes with a smile on her face, and she is safe. I have faith in schools again."

Marcie Goodman, Maryland's legislative liaison for Bullying Police USA and a longtime anti-bullying advocate, wrote the legislation signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2008 that required the state education department to establish a model bullying-prevention policy to guide local districts. She said that since then, the state has come a long way in addressing the issue.

"There's definitely more awareness because the school systems know they have to step in to help the bullied and the bullies," Goodman said. "Shaniya humanized it for so many people, and what happened to her was so horrifying that it made people who were in positions to effect change pay attention."

In the wake of the debate last year, the governor's wife, Katie O'Malley, established an inaugural Bullying Awareness Week in Maryland.

Last fall, after a series of high-profile cases across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education convened a task force and held an inaugural summit to address the issue.

The U.S. secretary of education issued memos to state and district leaders, including Baltimore, reminding them of bullying policies and how failing to enforce them could jeopardize their federal funding.

Goodman, who tours the state speaking to students, said that while public schools are making progress, there are still many students who can fall through the cracks. She is contacted by at least 30 families a month for guidance on how to help their bullied children, particularly those who attend private school.

Last legislative session, another one of Goodman's bills passed that will require all private schools that receive state funds to have a bullying prevention policy. But a number of private schools, which have opposed the measure, won't have to report bullying incidents.

"The more that we can get people to understand that what hurts kids hurts all of us, we can make a difference," she said.

erica.green@baltsun.com