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FAC Harassment Free Expression BROCHURE

FAC Harassment Free Expression BROCHURE

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Published by: Religion News Service on May 22, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Harassment, Bullyingand Free Expression
Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools
American Jewish Committee
Religious Freedom Education Project/ First Amendment Center
American Association of School Administrators
Center for Religion and Public Affairs,Wake Forest University Divinity School
Christian Educators Association International
Christian Legal Society
Hindu American Foundation
Islamic Networks Group and its Affiliates
Islamic Society of North America
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of State Boards of Education
National Council for the Social Studies
National School Boards Association
Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregationsof America
Free and Sae Public Schools
A core mission o public schools is to prepareyoung people to be engaged, ethical citizensin a democratic society. This means, in part,creating a sae learning environment thatteaches respect or the rights o students to reespeech and ree exercise o religion guaranteedunder our Constitution and law whilesimultaneously ensuring that student speechdoes not disrupt the learning environment ordegenerate into bullying or harassment.Students should be able to attend publicschools where they are ree to share theirviews and engage in discussions aboutreligious and political dierences whilesimultaneously attending sae schools thatprohibit discrimination, bullying and harassment.Although in most instances these two principlesare compatible, they collide in some cases.These guidelines are intended to help publicschools balance the need or school saetywith the need or ree expression. The balancebetween the two is not static: It changesdepending on the specic circumstances ineach case, and is aected especially by theage o the students involved.These guidelines are based on current law. Theydo not provide guidance or every situation. Butthey should provide useul guidance or schoolocials seeking to create a sae and reelearning environment.
These guidelines are not legal advice. Please contact your school attorney for guidance on the law as it has been applied in your jurisdiction.
Freedom rom Harassment
A school risks violating civil rights laws i ittolerates student-on-student harassmenton the basis o race, color, national origin,sex, religion or disability. Under ederal law,deliberate indierence to harassment that isso “severe, pervasive and objectionablyoensive” that it “eectively bars the victim’saccess” to educational programs or benetsprovided by the school constitutes illegaldiscrimination.
Many states have moreprescriptive laws banning — or requiringschools to ban — harassment and bullyingon these characteristics and others,including on the basis o sexual orientationand gender identity. A number o publicschools go urther in their eorts to eradicatesuch conduct, adopting policies “stricter”than ederal and state law.Students should be able to attend schoolwithout being — or even reasonably eeling —threatened by others. School ocials shouldbe mindul that abusive peer conduct may denystudents ull access to an education, even whenit is not on a basis prohibited by law.Whether on the basis o one o the prohibitedgrounds listed above, or non-speciedgrounds such as a perceived lack o athleticability, perceived “geekiness,” jealousy overriendships, or simply the ability to exploit apower dierential, harassment and bullyinghave no place in schools. All students deserveprotection against bullying and harassment.A sae, caring learning environment isessential i students are to achieve theiracademic potential.Public schools should not be satised withmerely avoiding legal liability or harassmentor bullying. School ocials should armatively
Freedom o Expression
Educating or citizenship includes teachingstudents about the value o ree speech in ademocratic society. In a country that treasures— indeed depends on — reedom o expression,citizens will sometimes hear oensive, evenhateul, speech. The act that some speechdeeply upsets, oends or angers some citizensis not a justication or banning or limiting thespeech. Outside the school context, it is settledlaw that “absent … narrow circumstances …the burden normally alls upon the viewer to‘avoid urther bombardment o [his] sensibilitiesby averting [his] eyes.’”
The extent to whichthis principle applies in the school context issomewhat unsettled.In general, a listener is ree to avoid hateulspeech, to turn away, and, o course, torespond and to challenge it. But listeners maynot insist that government silence the speech.While government cannot silence such speech,it is, as a general matter, ree to condemn it.These principles need to be applied withsome modication in schools, becausestudents are at dierent ages and stageso development, and are required to attendclasses and other activities and oten cannoteasily turn away. The skill o listening tospeech with which one prooundly disagreesnevertheless remains an essential elemento preparation or democratic citizenship.Teachers and school ocials, because o thespecial places o power and infuence theyoccupy, need to exercise special carein responding to controversial speech sothat they do not either coerce or silencedissenters. Neither can they abdicate theirresponsibility to protect other students, orto convey the school’s own views.

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