Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Department of Education Hosts Third Annual Anti-Bullying Summit

On Monday, August 6th and Tuesday, August 7th, the Department of Education held its third annual Bullying Prevention Summit. This summit brings together lawmakers, agency officials, advocates, parents, and students to focus on coordinating and increasing anti-bullying efforts around the nation. The severe problem that bullying creates for our nation’s youth was summed up by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In her address, she stressed that, “Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s a systemic situation that threatens the health and well-being of our young people.  It’s destructive to our communities and devastating to our future.” She also spoke about the need for more research so that bullying in schools can be better understood, and the many consequences it creates more effectively addressed.
This sentiment was echoed around the summit as participants discussed the steps necessary to end bullying and harassment in America’s schools.
The summit included panel discussions on several different elements of anti-bullying campaigns. These included understanding children who bully, supporting suicide prevention strategies, increasing federal resources for building skills in bullying prevention, and creating a kinder and braver world for our youth. There were also several discussions about current anti-bullying efforts, including that of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” campaign, and how they can be improved upon to ensure safety for every single student.
The importance of ensuring that every student has the safe and supportive learning environment they deserve was underlined by several of the high-caliber individuals that attended. In addition to HHS Secretary Sebelious, the First Lady of Maryland Katie O’Malley attended, and spoke about several model bullying prevention initiatives that Maryland has adopted, and Representative Mike Honda, the founder of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, spoke about the need for federal legislation–such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA)and the Safe Schools Improvement Act(SSIA)—to require anti-bullying and harassment policies in all of America’s public schools. The SNDA would prohibit all public schools from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression in any manner. The SSIA would require school systems to implement anti-bullying policies that ensure the protection of all their students. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered the closing keynote address, applauding the efforts of the many involved to ensure that all students have the safe and healthy school environments they need to promote their academic performance, mental health, and well-being, but also addressing the battle ahead stating, “We have a long way to go and need the help of our federal partners, education leaders, schools, communities, and legislators to assist in [anti-bullying] efforts.”
The summit also included a reveal of the Ad Council and the Free to Be Foundation’s new ad campaign that will soon be launched on Cartoon Network. These ads are aimed at students and their parents, encouraging parents to talk to their children about not being silent bystanders if their peers are being bullied. The ads begin airing in October, and will attempt to counter negative messages that students receive in hostile school learning environments. 
Take Action: It’s essential to keep working at all levels of government to ensure that each and every student has the safe, healthy, and non-discriminatory learning environment that all children deserve. Want to ensure that all students have a safe learning environment? Contact your elected officials and urge them to support legislation, like the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can also contact your local PFLAG chapter to find out about more about PFLAG’s Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools For All program.