GLSEN testifies on anti-bullying bills
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Support Letter for Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010, B18-1057 11/29/10

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Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network

Testimony before DC Council Committee of the Whole and Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation

Re: Hearing on Bullying Prevention Act of 2010 (Bill 18-770) and
Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010 (Bill 18-1057)

November 29, 2010

Good morning Chairman Gray, Councilmember Thomas, and members of the Committees, we thank you for your leadership on the important issue of school safety. My name is Alison Gill and I am a Public Policy Associate at GLSEN – the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. For 20 years, GLSEN has worked to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The passage of anti-bullying legislation like the bills presented here today is critical to ensure the safety and well-being of the District’s students. The District of Columbia has been a pioneer on issues such as nondiscrimination in schools and yet is one of only a handful of jurisdictions in this country without an anti-bullying law. Bullying and harassment has become a serious public health crisis in our nation’s schools. Sixty-five percent of teens have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted based on a characteristic that makes them different from some of their peers, like their race, religion, or gender. Sixty-five percent of junior high school teachers report that bullying and harassment is a serious problem in their school.1

Bullying and harassment has often increased adverse effects on marginalized students, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey,2 nearly nine out of ten LGBT students experience verbal or physical harassment in school. Thirty percent missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. LGBT students who were frequently harassed had grades on average a half a grade lower than their peers and were less likely to want to pursue college. The District’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides additional alarming statistics about the situation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in the District of Columbia. Nearly a third (29%) of LGB middle and high school students in DC have attempted suicide. LGB students are almost 6 times more likely to report missing four or more days of school in the past month, compared to heterosexual students. Though these statistics reflect the experiences of LGBT students, consequences like absenteeism, lowered educational aspirations and academic achievement, and poorer psychological well-being can affect all students who experience bullying and harassment.

GLSEN’s research demonstrates that a crucial part of addressing bullying and harassment in schools is through the adoption of enumerated anti-bullying policies, meaning policies that include a listing of characteristics that are commonly targeted for bullying and harassment. Enumeration is necessary to ensure that anti-bullying policies provide protection for ALL students. Students who attend schools with enumerated policies report less bullying and harassment, a higher rate of intervention by teachers, an overall increased feeling of safety, and such students are more likely to report incidents of bullying and harassment when they occur. However, students in states without enumerated laws have the same experience of bullying as students in states with no anti-bullying laws at all. Therefore, we applaud the sponsors of these bills for including enumeration.

The bills being considered today, B770 and B1057 each have important components that should be incorporated in any combined anti-bullying legislation. We believe that the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act, B1057, provides more comprehensive protections and therefore should be the basis for a combined bill. In particular, B1057 includes “gender expression” in the list of protected characteristics, clarifies the reporting requirement for employees, allows for anonymous reporting, allows DCPS to consider additional characteristics not specifically enumerated, and extends anti-bullying protection to charter schools and other youth serving agencies. All of these are vital elements of a strong and effective anti-bullying law and we support their inclusion in a combined bill.

In addition, we recommend a number of provisions that should be included in a combined anti-bullying bill moving forward. First, B1057 should require individual DC public schools and charter schools to pass anti-bullying and harassment policies consistent with the Act. DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) should create model policies to help with this process. Next, the list of enumerated characteristics should be brought into accordance with the DC Human Rights Act by including “ethnicity” as a protected characteristic. Moreover, the list should include association language pertaining to the enumerated categories. Students may experience bullying not based on who they are, but based on the people that they associate with and therefore need to be explicitly protected for this reason. Perhaps most crucially, B1057 should include a system for reporting aggregate incidents of bullying and harassment to the public, both at the individual school and the agency level. Public reports will both ensure that the District is able to track trends in bullying behavior over time and hold schools and agencies accountable for addressing this problem. This reporting mechanism should also distinguish incidents based on the type of bullying occurring, such as bullying based on an enumerated characteristic or cyberbullying, in order to better target anti-bullying programs.

Comprehensive anti-bullying legislation is a necessary aspect of ensuring school safety in the District of Columbia. We thank the sponsors of these two bills for their leadership on this issue, and urge them to work together to create a stronger combination bill that will best address the issues faced by DC students. We hope to work collaboratively with the sponsors to ensure that a comprehensive bill is promptly passed and effectively implemented in the District of Columbia. Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

Attachments-

Support Letter for Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010, B18-1057

OSSE 2009 YRBS LGBT Fact Sheet

GLSEN Fact Sheet

GLSEN Model State Anti-Bullying and Harassment Legislation

GLSEN Model District Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy

GLSEN Model School Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy


Footnotes

1 Statistics from Harris Interactive and GLSEN (2005). From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers. New York: GLSEN.

2 Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., and Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.


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