As local District of Columbia and National education, civil rights, and legal groups, we urge the DC Council to pass comprehensive anti-bullying legislation this session. The District of Columbia is one of only a handful of jurisdictions without an anti-bullying and harassment law. The anti-bullying and harassment bills currently under consideration by the DC Council, the Bullying Prevention Act of 2010 (Bill 18-770) and the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010 (Bill 18-1057), are educational and preventative measures which would protect the District’s students and create a strong basis from which to move forward with anti-bullying and harassment programs and training.
In particular, the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010 (B18-1057) is comprehensive legislation that would require the District of Columbia Public Schools, the District of Columbia Public Charter Schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the District of Columbia Public Library, and the University of the District of Columbia to develop policies to prevent student bullying and harassment. These policies must contain several crucial components, such as procedures for reporting and investigating incidents of bullying and harassment, anonymous reporting provisions, provisions requiring publication of the policies, prohibition of retaliation and false accusations, and a range of consequences for confirmed incidents of bullying and harassment. Furthermore, the legislation requires educators to report incidents of bullying and harassment and requires the affected agencies to train educators and students on anti-bullying policies. Importantly, this legislation provides clear protections for students with characteristics that are frequently the subject of bullying and harassment, such as disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
Bullying and harassment is a pervasive problem that affects millions of students every year. The 2005 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) study From Teasing to Torment reports that 65% of surveyed teens had been physically or verbally harassed during the past year because of some characteristic, such as their physical appearance, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. DC-specific data from the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) paints an especially bleak picture regarding LGB students, finding that such students are about six times as likely as heterosexual students to report missing school four or more days in the past month and 29% of LGB high school and middle school students have attempted suicide.
By requiring comprehensive school policies that enumerate specific characteristics that are frequently the subject of bullying and harassment, in addition to protecting all students, the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010 is able to protect marginalized students such as LGBT students. GLSEN’s research shows that comprehensive school policies result in lower levels of victimization for LGBT students in contrast to “generic” policies (those that do not mention sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) or with no policy at all. Comprehensive school policies result in school staff effectively intervening with incidents of victimization. LGBT students in states with a comprehensive safe schools law experience lower levels of victimization than students in states with no law or with a generic law. Students with such laws also report greater intervention by school staff. Enumeration also helps to provide safer schools for all students. Students whose schools have an enumerated policy are less likely than other students to report a serious harassment problem at their school, more likely to feel very safe at school, and one-third as likely to skip a class because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
Although the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010 is a strong bill, there are still ways to improve the legislation and enhance school safety in the District of Columbia. First, the definition of “harassment, bullying or bullying” should enumerate “ethnicity” and also cover students based on their association with others with the listed characteristics. In addition, the bill should require that each school and covered District agency make available to the public an aggregate report of incidents of bullying and harassment. This will help to ensure that schools and agencies are held accountable for creating a safe environment in which all students can learn. Furthermore, these reports should clearly break down the types of bullying occurring, such as whether the incidents are based on enumerated characteristics or involve cyberbullying. This will help the covered agencies and school to target anti-bullying programs and training appropriately. We ask that the DC Council promptly pass the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010, while considering amendments to address these important considerations.
If you would like any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact Alison Gill at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at (202) 621-5821 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children’s Law Center
DC Trans Coalition
Family Equality Council
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Metro DC PFLAG
Rainbow Response Coalition
The Trevor Project