A federal anti-bullying bill that would protect students based on their sexuality or gender identity/expression was introduced into the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
The bill, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, was introduced by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) and currently has 10 co-sponsors.
The Act would create comprehensive and standardized anti-bullying policies which, for the first time, would include protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as well as other recognized protected classes such as religion and national origin.
The bill was first introduced into the U.S. House by Representative Linda Sanchez in January, 2009. It garnered a bipartisan 119 cosponsors and sits in the House Committee for Education and Labor waiting to be taken up.
What is the Purpose of the Safe Schools Improvement Act?
The Safe Schools Improvement Act or SSIA would call on schools and districts that receive federal funds to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation and perceived or actual gender identity.
Of course, the bill would also create stricter and more uniform policies for dealing with and preventing all forms of bullying, not just ones tied to a specific characteristic.
Crucially, the Act would also mandate that states catalog and report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act Defines Bullying As:
[Conduct that] adversely affects the ability of one or more students to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational programs or activities by placing the student (or students) in reasonable fear of physical harm.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act Defines Harassment As:
[Conduct that] adversely affects the ability of one or more students to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational programs or activities because the conduct, as reasonably perceived by the student (or students), is so severe, persistent, or pervasive.
Why is the Safe Schools Improvement Act Needed?
Commenting on the bill’s introduction, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) said:
“GLSEN would like to thank Senator Casey for introducing this potentially lifesaving bill in the Senate,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.
“Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long. Countless youth are denied access to an education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Improvement Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools.”
Nearly two-thirds of middle and high school students (65%) said they had been bullied in school in the past year, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 report from GLSEN and Harris Interactive that surveyed more than 3,000 students.
LGBT students face even higher levels of victimization. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.4%) said they had been harassed in the past year, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students. Additionally, 60.8% said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
Bullying creates significant adverse academic and other consequences for students. No federal law or policy exists that requires schools to address the problem, and existing state laws vary greatly in their breadth and effectiveness.
“Bullying is a national public health crisis that demands a national solution,” said mother Sirdeaner Walker, whose 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his life in Springfield, Mass., last year after enduring constant anti-gay bullying at school. “As a mother who knows the painful consequences of inaction, I urge Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and give schools the tools they need to make their hallways and classrooms safer for all students.”…
Those who are familiar with the story of Constance McMillen will be aware of how it took a court battle to ensure that Itawamba County School District enacted a non-discrimination policy to protect LGBT students, a length that no teenager should have to resort to in order to ensure that students will not be discriminated against in school, either by fellow pupils or by school officials, based on their gender/gender identity, race, sexuality or disability.
Is Your Senator a Cosponsor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act? You can check here, thank you senator for their support, or urge them to sponsor.
You can also read the text of the Safe Schools Improvement Act here.
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