Focus on the Family has launched an odd attack on legislation I introduced in the Senate to help prevent and respond to bullying in schools. Their legislative bullying highlights the type of intolerance and ill-informed divisiveness that contributes to the harassment in schools that this legislation seeks to prevent.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced in the House by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, would require schools and districts receiving designated federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including conduct based on a student's actual or perceived race, color, national original, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.
This bill has widespread support from educators, administrators, civil rights organizations and the National PTA. Yet, Focus on the Family has launched a campaign to brand the bill part of a vast LGBT conspiracy "to promote homosexuality to kids" and to push a "pro-gay curricula."
These charges are, of course, false. The legislation would not affect curriculum. The only goals are to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence and that no child is so afraid to go to school for fear of unchecked bullying and harassment.
What is true and inescapable is the countless news reports in recent years which have shown that bullying and harassment are widespread and affect millions of students every day. According to the Department of Education, nearly one in three school children between grades six through ten are affected by bullying and harassment.
Studies show that the impacts of bullying and harassment have long-term consequences, including decreased concentration in the classroom, increased absenteeism, and lower student achievement. In extreme cases, some victims of bullying have even committed suicide as a result of rampant bullying left unchecked by school administrators.
Without support from teachers and counselors, this behavior can have devastating effects on young people. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one girl says she was bullied by a group of boys almost daily throughout sixth and seventh grade and that this bullying contributed to her development of anorexia nervosa. The school's guidance counselor allegedly told her that "boys will be boys" and the bullying was allowed to continue. She has since enrolled in a private school where her mother pays tuition to ensure her daughter attends a safe school.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, Carl Walker Hoover resorted to suicide after facing endless taunting from fellow students who called him "gay" and made fun of his clothes. He was in just the sixth grade. A few months later in a nearby town, Phoebe Prince, 15, also committed suicide after facing a barrage of harassment both at school and online through Facebook.
This legislation would ensure that schools and school districts implement effective prevention programs in order to better prevent and respond to incidences of bullying and harassment both in school and online that have an impact in the classroom. It would also require that states report data on incidences of bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
The only way to combat intolerance and harassment is to have an open and honest dialogue -- that counts for the public policy arena as a well as the classroom.
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