School districts are watching a bill moving through the Capitol that could affect how they handle school bullies. The bill relates to a 1997 murder in Palm Beach County where a disabled middle school student was murdered by a boy who'd been bullying him for months.
The boy’s family hopes it sends a message that schools need to do more to protect their students. In 1997, 13-year-old Pierre Kamel was shot to death by a school bully. Tronneal Mangum harassed the disabled boy for months.
Family attorney Lance Block says Pierre had complained about the bullying, but Tronneal was never punished.
"He had been bullied and picked on all year by the perpetrator who was 14-years-old at the time of the murder, so this was a growing problem that just escalated," Block says.
Now, the Florida Legislature is considering whether the Palm Beach County School Board should pay a $650,000 claim to the family because it didn't do enough to prevent the murder.
School officials across Florida are watching this case. They're worried it forces them to take responsibility for situations they don't think they can control. State School Boards Association president Wayne Blanton says the school had tried to mediate the dispute between the boys before the murder. Plus, Pierre was shot to death on the sidewalk in front of the school before classes started.
"That's the real issue, and why we're so concerned this is a statewide issue because we cannot monitor young people 24 hours a day," says Blanton.
But Attorney General Charlie Crist says Pierre's death shows how serious the problem can be.
"What we always want to do when we have a sad situation that's being death with now from the 97 case is find out what we can do from a policy point of view to make Florida safer going forward in the future," says Crist.
Pierre's family hopes his case serves as a warning to other parents and to schools of what can happen if they don't act. Tronneal Mangum is serving a life sentence without parole for Pierre Kamel's murder.
The bill authorizing payment to Pierre's family is bottled up in a Senate committee. Lawmakers are still weighing whether to approve it.