The Miami-Dade school district, the 4th largest in the United States, added to its anti-harassment and bullying policies last week by creating explicit protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
This is the culmination of over ten years of work by equality groups and the Miami-Dade Safe Schools Coalition.
The amended language in the anti-harassment policy reads:
“Bullying, Harassment, Cyberbullying, and Discrimination (as referred to and defined herein) encompasses, but is not limited to, unwanted harm towards a student or employee based on or with regard to actual or perceived: sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability (physical, mental, or educational), marital status, socio-economic background, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background. This policy prohibits bullying or harassment of any student by any Board member, District employee, consultant, contractor, agent, visitor, volunteer, student, or other person in the school or outside of the school at school-sponsored events, on school buses, and at training facilities or training programs sponsored by the District.”
This change of language adds to the Jeffrey Johnson Stand Up For All Students Act that was passed three years ago which, while applying to LGBT students, did not make their inclusion explicit.
“For the past year we’ve focused on strengthening Miami-Dade’s anti-bullying policy as a way to create a climate where bullying a student because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity is no longer tolerated,” said C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade. SAVE Dade worked with their partner the ACLU of Florida in developing the policy’s new language.
“The most common forms of bullying and harassment in Florida schools, and across the country, are based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical appearance,” said Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida LGBT Project Attorney. “Although the state anti-bullying law clearly prohibits bullying and harassment of any students, it is imperative that individual school district policies make clear that bullying and harassment of LGBT students is prohibited and will not be tolerated. This is a critical step in making Florida schools truly safe for all students.”
According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey 7,261 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (84.6%) experienced harassment at school in the previous year. Miami-Dade County provides significant support through public school programs and nonprofit organizations for LGBT students.
Suzy Milano, Director of Mental Health and Crisis Management Services for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Coordinator of the District’s Sexual Minority Network said, “Our work provides prevention and intervention services that promotes awareness, diversity, and acceptance in the fourth largest school district in the country.” Ms. Milano’s project is unique to Florida’s school systems with services focused on protecting students from bullying in schools. Milano also credits SAVE Dade’s technical support as being critical to the policy’s success. The amendment took place during a county wide update aimed at improving and streamlining many of the school district’s administrative policies.
Whereas policy is an important factor in providing anti-bullying protections, it is one of several actions being taken to protect the interest of all students. “To confront bullying head on, we need a balanced approach by passing effective policy and offering programs that educate faculty/administration; removes barriers for reporting; and provides support and safety for all affected students,” said Carla Silva, executive director of the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth. Silva’s organization takes a holistic approach by integrating education, advocacy, and services into programming that helps our LGBT students.
The new language went into into force Friday, 22 July.
The issue of explicit protections and the need for reporting and tracking bullying is perhaps a critical one. If anti-bullying programs do not explicitly mention particular groups that are known to be discriminated against, they run the risk of such incidents not being reported as bias motivated. If school districts and governments lack the essential knowledge of why people are bullying, bullying prevention programs risk becoming vague and even blunted, and therefore it becomes harder to educate children out of a bullying mindset.
This news came in the same week it was announced that Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin school district is being sued for its so-called “gag” policy on discussion of LGBT identity in schools.