Howard County Times
Howard County

As Howard school board tackles a bullying report, families share their stories

Christina Lazaris’ daughter attended most of sixth grade at Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City. However, due to consistent bullying and harassment by a group of male students, her daughter was moved to another county middle school last May, Lazaris said.

“During the summer of 2018, my daughter was full of life and excited to start her middle school career. We shopped for new clothes, locker decorations and talked [about] how excited she was to start this new chapter of her life … it was short lived,” Lazaris said during public testimony April 25 at the county Board of Education meeting.


Lazaris’ daughter was “harassed by a group of boys who made sexual comments towards her… [it] went from verbal to physical harassment. The boys would walk by her in hallway, touching and grabbing her inappropriately,” she said.

In the span of four months, her daughter attempted suicide six times, Lazaris said in an interview.


When her daughter returned to school after being hospitalized, the harassment began again, eventually leading to her getting transferred, Lazaris said. Her daughter is now thriving at Ellicott Mills Middle School.

“Even though she is now in a really great school … the trauma of seeing the kids in public or driving by the school triggers those emotions for her,” Lazaris said.

The school board prohibits bullying, cyberbullying, harassment or intimidation as these acts “compromise the learning environment and well-being of students, employees and community,” according to the school system’s policy on bullying, cyberbullying, harassment or intimidation.

At the board meeting, school officials presented the school board a report on bullying, cyberbullying and harassment.

Between Sept. 15, 2018, and April 1, 2019, 884 incidents of bullying, harassment or intimidation were reported to the school system, according to the report.

Of those 884 incidents, 298 were reported in elementary schools, 350 in middle schools, 221 at the high school level and 15 at the Homewood School, the county’s alternative school, the report states.

Howard County had the sixth-highest number of reported bullying incidents in the 2016-17 school year among the state’s 24 public school districts, according to the report.

School system staff, however, found inconsistencies in how bullying data was reported and aggregated.


“It is thought that these data problems have existed for several years, unfortunately leading to inaccurate data being reported to the state and reflected in the annual reports,” the report states.

Howard data shows there was a 34.5% false reporting rate for the 2016-17 school year.

School system staff has begun working on a new online bullying form as well as correcting and expanding on the data reporting, the report states.

The school board decided to have an additional work session to look more closely into the report and its findings.

School board member Jen Mallo said the report needs to address Grace’s Law and Grace’s Law 2.0.

“That needs to be the front and center of any objective,” Mallo said.


The two laws were created after Grace McComas, a sophomore at Glenelg High School, killed herself as result of being cyberbullied on Twitter by an older male student. Grace died on Easter Sunday in 2012.

Grace was vocal with her parents during this time of her life and her parents tried all avenues possible to address the issue with the school system, police, the state’s attorney’s office and the courts, Christine McComas, Grace’s mother, said in an interview.

After Grace’s death, McComas and her husband “felt an incredible sense of injustice. We begged for help in every place we knew how and the help didn’t come.

“[W]e needed people to know what happened to this child that I never thought we could lose to suicide.”

Grace’s Law was passed in the Maryland General Assembly in 2013, four days before the first anniversary of her death, McComas said. The initial law made repeated, malicious cyberbullying acts of a minor a criminal offense to be punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, according to the school system’s bullying report.

In the most recent session, Grace’s Law 2.0 was passed and signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan; this legislation increases penalties for cyberbullying.

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The new law allows authorities to crack down on a single social media post that either intends to or causes serious emotional or physical injury to a child. The law also carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to 10 years in prison or up to $10,000 in fines. Families are able to seek peace orders against cyberbullies, and the law adds provisions to prohibit disseminating doctored images or using fake profiles to harass someone online.

“It’s not that we are just learning how to identify bullying, it’s a crime and our students need to know it’s a crime,” Mallo said. “The more often we reiterated it’s a crime and it can have heavy and lifelong consequences, the less likely that it’s to happen.”

Earlier this month, the family of a Folly Quarter Middle school student who they say was the victim of an alleged sexual cyberbullying attack called upon school officials, including schools Superintendent Michael Martirano and the school board, to review bullying policies at county schools.

Nearly three months ago, their 14-year-old daughter, who has “a physical and severe intellectual disability,” was targeted and victimized by an eighth-grade student, the family said in a statement. The family said an image of their daughter’s face was superimposed onto a video from a pornography website and distributed on Snapchat.

The Howard County Times does not identify victims of sexual assault.

“No child should have to go through this traumatic incident,” Lazaris said through tears during her testimony. “This issue cannot be left as it.”


Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this report.