By Gaige Davila
Jennifer Overpeck, co-owner and operator of Overpeck B-B-Q food truck on South Padre Island, will soon head to the state capitol for a new bill aimed at protecting teachers from workplace bullying.
The bill, House Bill 256, would require school districts to adopt “anti-bullying measures to address bullying in the workplace, including provisions to address the bullying of a teacher by a parent,” the bill’s text reads.
The bill was filed by State Rep. Phillip Cortez, representing the northwest and southwest outskirts of San Antonio, last November. With the help of Victor Baldovinos, City of South Padre Island Environmental Health Director, and Alicia Baldovinos, a Point Isabel ISD school board member, Overpeck garnered political support through the local leaders’ contacts.
Overpeck testified on the state House of Representatives floor on Mar. 30, during a public hearing in the House’s Committee on Public Education. Since her testimony, the Committee on Public Education unanimously voted the bill out of committee and onto the house calendar. The hearing date will be confirmed sometime next week.
For Overpeck, who has spent the last five years researching and lobbying for the bill, the subject is personal.
Before moving to the Rio Grande Valley, Overpeck taught at Northside ISD, in San Antonio. A parent of one of Overpeck’s students harassed her over not changing the student’s grade. The parent then falsely accused of molesting a child by a parent. Overpeck was exonerated after an investigation, then filed a subsequent defamation lawsuit against the parent and won.
“It’s not only the teachers that are suffering, but the students that are suffering, and the administration that is suffering, and we have got to do something,” Overpeck told the House Public Education Committee. “Help us, because it’s still affecting me, and it’s not going away.”
Overpeck enlisted the help of Caroline Davis, an English Instructor at San Antonio College, to write a literature review researching teacher bullying. Utah is the only other state with a similar anti-teacher-bullying law, which passed in 2017.
According to a 2010 report by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education’s National Center for Education, 300,000 public school teachers had been either physically or mentally attacked or threatened in school by students.
“What I’m trying to prove is that it’s not only in children that you have bullying, it’s (towards) adults, too,” Overpeck told the PRESS. “There needs to be protection across the board in education not just for students but for educators, administrators and school board members.”
The bill’s language would allow school districts to implement their own anti-bullying policy into the district, Overpeck said, fitting the needs of educators, administrators and staff within their particular system.
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