Ed. Secretary adds weight to anti-bullying movementAround the City Thursday, May 31st, 2012
Two pending congressional anti-bullying bills – the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act – which were both endorsed by President Barack Obama earlier this year, are now also being publicly supported by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“Bullying can no longer be seen as a normal rite of passage,” Duncan said in a statement to the media. “As a country, we must all work together to take action against bullying and improve the safety climates of our schools and communities.” Duncan thanked Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Linda Sanchez for introducing the bills.
The bills are also intended to create a safer school environment for LGBT students.
San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Superintendent Bill Kowba believes it is important to highlight bullying. Says Kowba, “These acts are very important in that they address bullying and harassment as violating student rights. They specifically call out bullying and harassment against LGBT youth. They provide specific information about the schools’ role in protecting students from discrimination and bullying. Two additional pieces of legislation are equally important. The Fair Education Act will require classroom instruction to align with district non-discrimination policies. Seth’s Law (AB 537) changed the Student Safety and violence Prevention Act of 2000 by adding gender identity and perceived sexual orientation to the existing law.”
Denise Serrano, public affairs coordinator for the San Diego LGBT Community Center, sees both bills as being critical to creating a safe environment in schools. Says Serrano, “While civil rights protections expressly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, they do not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to Serrano, the Student Non-Discrimination Act establishes a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and provides victims with meaningful and effective remedies, modeled after Title IX.
“The Safe Schools Improvement Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to address and take action to prevent bullying and harassment of students,” she said.
The problem of bullying in schools is a national crisis. Says Kowba, “Depending on the source, there are indications as high as 1 in 3 youth who are bullied in schools.”
“The statistics are heartbreaking,” adds Serrano. “In GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, they found that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment in school. In California alone, many of those surveyed also experienced physical harassment and physical assault; about one in four was physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) because of the way they expressed their gender and about one in six was physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation.”
Adds Kowba, “According to the district Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 12 percent of kids in grades 9-12 are harassed because they are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
Aside from proposed laws at the national level, there have also been milestones in the San Diego area to help address the problem.
Says Serrano, “Here in San Diego, we have been tremendously fortunate to see the creation of the Safe Schools Advisory Board, which was formed to ensure that the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees adopted a safe schools/anti bullying policy and would then go on to implement it. This community/schools partnership has been innovative, extremely successful and vital to changing the culture and climate in the second largest school district in California.”
On the California state level there have also been laws introduced to combat school bullying.
Adds Serrano, “On a statewide level, we have SB 48 or the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which prohibits discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the state Board of Education. This bill also amended the education code to include instruction on the contributions of LGBT Americans in the social sciences. We also have Seth’s Law (AB 9) on the books, which tightens anti-bullying policies in California schools by ensuring that all schools have clear and consistent policies and by establishing timelines for investigating claims of bullying.”
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