Rosendall testifies on anti-bullying bills
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Rosendall testifies on anti-bullying bills

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013
202-667-5139

Testimony on Bill 18-770, Bullying Prevention Act of 2010, and
Bill 18-1057, Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010

Delivered before the Committee of the Whole and Libraries, Parks and Recreation
November 29, 2010


Good morning, Chairmen Gray and Thomas. I am Rick Rosendall, Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. We are the nation's oldest continuously active lesbian and gay civil rights organization, founded in 1971. In May 1972, we persuaded the D.C. Board of Education to prohibit discrimination in the school system on the basis of sexual orientation.

We urge the passage of comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in this Council session to require D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Public Charter Schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the D.C. Public Library, and the University of the District of Columbia to develop policies to prevent student bullying and harassment. We commend the Council members who have introduced and supported Bills 18-770 and 18-1057, as well as our allies represented at today’s hearing — especially the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a longstanding leader in this area. We summarized our views in our policy brief, Agenda: 2010.1

Last May I was pleased to join Alison Gill of GLSEN at a meeting with DCPS officials on anti-bullying efforts. As I noted then, the District has addressed bullying before. In an August 1999 letter to then-School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, my colleague Bob Summersgill, then GLAA Vice President for Political Affairs, urged adoption of a comprehensive anti-harassment policy to include student-on-student sexual harassment. In that letter he cited a survey of American school districts by GLSEN. His comments included these:

“The United States Supreme Court ruled [in May 1999] that schools that willfully ignore sexual harassment of one student by another can be held liable for violating federal civil rights law — Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Writing for the majority in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said lawsuits may be filed against school officials who knowingly and deliberately ignore student-on-student harassment.... The Supreme Court recently clarified that sexual harassment directed at lesbian and gay students is also covered by Title IX. In Nabozny v. Podlesny, the Wisconsin school district that ignored student brutality against a gay classmate lost nearly one million dollars.... Turning a deaf ear to complaints of serious harassment and violence, the court found, school officials themselves facilitate the denial of educational opportunities to harassed students.”2

Summersgill made similar comments in his November 1999 testimony on the DCPS Fiscal Year 2001 budget.3

In February 2000, Lukas Malek, then GLAA Vice President for Administration, gave testimony before the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees that included the following: “We have had a difficult time getting some in the present school administration to see the difference between discrimination and harassment. Discrimination is defined as being perpetrated by an authority figure and is currently prohibited, whereas harassment is defined as being student-on-student and is not presently addressed. DCPS has no policy to protect students from verbal harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation [or] other protected classes. There are vaguely worded protections from physical harassment that gay and lesbian students regularly face, however teachers and staff are not offered any training on dealing with student-on-student harassment and these rules are rarely, if ever, enforced with regard to sexual orientation protection.”4 Malek reiterated these concerns in a letter to Board of Education President Rev. Robert Childs the following month.5

Superintendent Ackerman responded to GLAA by issuing a directive on harassment and sexual harassment on March 29, 2000.6 It was not until February 2002 that hearings were held on a proposed rulemaking to fulfill the directive’s promise, at which Mr. Summersgill testified as GLAA President.7 In March 2001, Mr. Summersgill wrote on behalf of GLAA to then Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz to alert her to the omission of several protected categories from the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) in a “Notice of Final Rulemaking” on D.C. Public Charter Schools.8 The Board subsequently corrected the omission.9 Also in 2001, Summersgill supported rewriting the definition of “Unlawful discriminatory practice” in DCHRA to explicitly include harassment as a form of discrimination.10 This too was subsequently done.

Since then there have been other efforts by other superintendents, just as GLSEN has conducted more studies to document the problem here and elsewhere. Clearly, bullying and harassment are continuing, which brings us to the present legislation.

As GLSEN emphasizes, an effective anti-harassment policy must include enumeration of types of bullying and harassment (the policy is toothless unless you spell them out); procedures for reporting and investigating incidents; the option of anonymous reporting; provisions against retaliation and false accusations; a range of penalties for confirmed violations; publication of the policy; and a training requirement for educators and students. These things are specified in Bill 18-1057.

We agree with GLSEN that the bill should also enumerate “ethnicity” and cover students targeted for associating with others who have the enumerated characteristics; and should require each school and covered agency to publish an aggregate report of incidents, as well as a breakdown of the specific types of bullying and harassment. There should be penalties for teachers who ignore bullying that they witness, and rewards for those who act to protect students. The bill should include the complete list of categories from the D.C. Human Rights Act.

It is important to avoid approaches that would have the effect of punishing schools for reporting incidents of bullying. If anything, schools should be punished for not reporting such incidents. No one is helped by artificially low statistics that result from under-reporting. And it is essential that individual school principals not be permitted to set their own de facto policies.

Without effective implementation and enforcement, even a model policy is a paper tiger. Success requires clear and visible leadership; involvement of stakeholders; follow-through by school officials and officials of other covered agencies; and continued oversight by the Council. We look forward to working with you to ensure that the protection of all District students becomes the norm. All of our young people deserve a safe environment for learning.

We are also pleased to associate ourselves with the testimony of Bob Summersgill.

Thank you.


Footnotes

1 GLAA Anti-Bullying Policy, Agenda: 2010, July 8, 2010, Section 6.4, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2010/agenda2010.htm#_Toc266257936

2 Bob Summersgill/GLAA, Letter to DCPS Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, August 30, 1999, http://www.glaa.org/archive/1999/schools0830.shtml

3 Bob Summersgill/GLAA, Testimony on DCPS Fiscal Year 2001 Budget, November 16, 1999, http://www.glaa.org/archive/1999/dcpsharassment1116.shtml

4 Lukas Malek/GLAA, Testimony before Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees, February 9, 2000, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2000/edtest0209.shtml

5 Lukas Malek/GLAA, Letter to Board of Education President Rev. Robert Childs, March 10, 2000, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2000/studentharassment0310.shtml

6 DCPS Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, Directive on Harassment and Sexual Harassment, March 29, 2000, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2000/dcpsharassment0329.shtml

7 Bob Summersgill/GLAA, Testimony on proposed rulemaking on harassment, February 6, 2002, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2002/dcpstestimony0206.shtml

8 GLAA alerts Cafritz to omission in Public Charter School policies, March 7, 2001, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2001/glaacharterschools0307.shtml

9 School Board responds to GLAA on public charter school policies, May 18, 2001, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2001/mikutacharterschools0518.shtml

10 GLAA calls for clarification of Human Rights Act to include harassment, December 3, 2001, http://www.glaa.org/archive/2001/glaaantiharassmenttestimony1203.shtml


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