A Clayton County boy who was facing jail time was ordered instead to pay a fine and undergo counseling after the 13-year-old student struck back at a classmate who allegedly tormented him for two years.
Daryl Gray, a student at Pointe South Middle School, faced up to five years in prison for the incident, which is part of a growing debate around the country of whether students who are bullied by their peers have the right to fight back. As part of his sentence, Daryl will have to pay $332 in restitution to his victim.
In addition, the judge ordered the boy to serve 90 days on probation although his record will be expunged if he fulfills all the terms of his sentence.
During the morning hearing, Daryl's teacher as well as the mother of the boy who was struck in the face with a pencil testified about the incident. Judge Leslie Gresham found Daryl guilty in juvenile court of aggravated battery on April 9. The hearing Wednesday was held to determine his punishment, and included testimony from those who knew Daryl, who is a Jehovah's Witness who has not been in trouble before.
"Darryl is a fun child. Daryl is a loving child," said Gloria Fuentes, a family friend. "He takes his responsibilities seriously."
Daryl said the other boy hit him first during math class. One of the boy's teacher testified that he had been tormented by other kids.
"It almost seemed like it was ongoing," teacher Fabiola Aurelian told the judge. "No one really wanted to include him as a member of the class."
Daryl is among a growing number of bullying victims who are striking back, sometimes in deadly ways, said Dorothy Espelage, an associate professor of educational psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A 2002 U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education study found that two-thirds of school shootings in the past 30 years were committed by bullying victims, according to Espelage.
Suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution are common results, which are often handed out with little or no consideration to the history or context of the situation, Espelage said.
The case against Daryl comes amid efforts to toughen Georgia's anti-bullying law.
Those revisions, approved by the state House, expand the law's reach beyond middle and high school and into elementary school. They also require schools to investigate all incidents and report them to the state Department of Education.
State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, pushed to strengthen Georgia's anti-bullying law after a 14-year-old boy fired a gun at a student who had been bullying him. Instead, he killed an innocent bystander at school last August in Columbus. The Columbus student, who has pleaded innocent, remains in custody and is awaiting trial on murder charges.
But special laws are not needed to handle bullying victims who fight back, says Lee Sexton, president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Laws on the books dealing with assault, battery and self-defense are enough, he said.
What needs to change, he suggested, is how the nation's juvenile justice system deals with children who commit crimes.