A California law requiring school districts to update their anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies has been seemingly ignored by five Long Beach area school districts, according to a Long Beach Press-Telegram investigation.
AB 9, otherwise known as “Seth’s Law,” mandates that districts implement updated anti-discrimination policies to include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, in addition to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability and religion. It also requires districts to notify students and parents of their rights and how to advocate for them.
The bill was signed in October by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and is named after Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old junior high student who committed suicide in September 2010 after being subject to constant harassment at school for being gay. A federal investigation determined that school officials had ignored the bullying.
The legislation required districts to update their policies by July 1. But according to the Press-Telegram, officials at Downey, Paramount and Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School Districts claimed they were unaware of AB 9’s mandate to update their bullying and harassment policies. Bellflower Unified School District’s superintendent declined to comment about the matter, while Long Beach Unified School District updated its policies to comply with the law on July 3, and has led the way in addressing anti-gay behavior via its district-wide Project 10 program.
Come November, the state will commence a nine-month audit of all public schools to ensure they have implemented and comply with the anti-harassment and anti-bullying laws. The auditor will then make recommendations based on the review's findings.
KPCC reports that according to the audit request, it costs school districts about $39.9 million a year when students miss school because they don't feel safe and are scared of being bullied.
"California cannot afford to lose any more students to bullying and harassment," the request states. "In order to combat discrimination in schools, we must be vigilant to ensure that these laws are being implemented throughout every district and school in the state."
Stephanie Papas, a school health education consultant with the California Department of Education, told the Press-Telegram she finds it hard to believe the aforementioned districts were unaware of the mandate, as notices were sent out.
"Failing to comply with AB 9 is unacceptable," Papas said. "This is an important issue and schools need to understand their obligations and responsibilities. Schools will be monitored on compliance with the law."
AB 9 requires California public schools to:
Adopt a strong anti-bullying policy that specifically spells out prohibited targets for bullying, including sexual orientation and gender identity/gender expression.
Adopt a specific process for receiving and investigating complaints of bullying, including a requirement that school staff members intervene if they witness bullying.
Publicize the anti-bullying policy and complaint process, including posting the policy in all schools and offices.
A study last year by the California Safe Schools Coalition found that nearly half of California students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual have been the victims of gender-based harassment. It was also reported at the time Seth’s Law was approved that 80 percent of gay students nationwide report school employees do little or nothing to stop anti-gay behavior when they witness it.
In April, Christian group Focus on the Family countered the "Day of Silence" -- an annual event to protest LGBT bullying -- with its own "Day of Dialogue." It was one of a number of groups that has been working to overturn new anti-bullying laws in the name of religious freedom.