Thursday, December 2, 2010

DC Council Addresses School Bullying

On Monday, November 29th, the D.C. Council held a hearing featuring testimony from over a dozen community-based organizations, parents, school administrators, teachers and students all supporting two anti-bullying measures that seek to address the existing problems with school-based bullying, harassment and discrimination. The hearing mostly saw wide community support and praise for the legislation, along with recommendations to make the legislation more impactful in practice.

The two bills currently being considered, the “Bullying Prevention Act of 2010” sponsored by Chairman Vincent Gray and councilmember Michael Brown (I-At Large) and the “Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010”, which was introduced by Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., would require city public and charter schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the District of Columbia Public Library, and the University of the District of Columbia to develop LGBT inclusive anti-discrimination policies, reporting requirements and sanctions against “harassment, intimidation or bullying.”

Many groups applauded the evidence of enumerated categories that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections within the legislation that specifically lists lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth as being protected by the provisions. Anonymous reporting and educational training for faculty to be able to detect and prevent bullying were also lauded characteristics of the legislation. However, many testimonials called for improvements to the bills, including covering students who associate with students who are protected under the enumerated categories, which would allow defenders of victims to be protected from the bullies targeting someone because of perceived characteristics. Advocates also made suggestions to include uniform categories listed in the DC Human Rights Act into the legislation as well as making aggregate reporting by the schools and district agencies mandatory.

The proposed legislation reflect a positive trend of state- and city-level politicians responding to the bullying crisis that has taken hold in the media and affected young people across the country in a countless number of disturbing instances. The bills within the DC Council build from Maryland’s anti-bullying protections signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2008, and the hearing comes a week after New Jersey legislators approved a bill that will enact one of the nation’s toughest bullying policies in public and private schools.

While the stories of loss are often the ones that take center stage, students who face a number of close calls but persevere through the egregious behavior provided particularly compelling and poignant insight into the problem at Monday’s hearing. David Aponte, 18, was frank with the council and those in attendance in saying he was bullied so harshly for being Jewish and short while attending Signal Hill Elementary that he had attempted suicide three times before leaving. He identifies himself as a straight ally and advocate for this legislation because he doesn’t want others feeling the same pain he felt, making clear that the importance and necessity for action is not based on one specific set of characteristics by stating, "This is not a gay issue or a Jewish issue or black and white issue. This is a human issue." Aponte was joined by members representing GLSEN, The DC Center, SMYAL, DCTC , Metro TeenAIDS, and the ADL, along with our very own DC PFLAG Chapter President Bill Briggs. PFLAG is not only confident that the Council will take into consideration the testimony provided to instate a tough, protective law, but also hopeful that the recent attention given to this problem by local governments will spur more statewide legislation to act in saving their respective students’ lives.

This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

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