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Comprehensive Federal Approach Needed to Create Safe Schools for All Students

Comprehensive Federal Approach Needed to Create Safe Schools for All Students

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Mark Hines and Jeff Krehely detail why far-reaching federal legislation is needed to protect students, especially LGBT students, from bullying in schools.
Mark Hines and Jeff Krehely detail why far-reaching federal legislation is needed to protect students, especially LGBT students, from bullying in schools.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Sep 08, 2011
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1Center for American Progress | Comprehensive Federal Approach Needed to Create Safe Schools for All Students
Comprehensive Federal Approach Neededto Create Safe Schools for All Students
Obama Administration Takes Important Steps to Help Nation’sLGBT Youth
Mark Hines and Jeff Krehely September 2011
 All sudens in he Unied Saes deserve access o no only a qualiy educaion, bu alsoone ha akes place in an environmen ha is sae and respecs heir basic humandigniy. Unorunaely, many o our naion’s sudens are subjec o harassmen, bully-ing, and violence in he school sysem. Youh who are (or are perceived o be) lesbian,gay, bisexual, or ransgender, or LGB, are especially a risk or his ype o abuse. A spae o high-prole cases over he pas year has helped our naion become more awareo he problem o ani-LGB bullying, as well as is magniude and impac on sudens,heir amilies, schools, and our sociey.Many saes have aken legislaive and regulaory seps o oser sae environmens orLGB youh in schools,albei o varying degrees o coverage and enorcemen.Federallegislaion ha applies o all schools and covers all youh would provide he moscomprehensive level o proecion, and Congress should immediaely move o enacsuch laws. As discussed laer, hree dieren LGB-inclusive anibullying bills have beeninroduced in he curren session o Congress.Shor o legislaion, he ederal governmen also has he auhoriy hrough exising civilrighs laws o inervene when schools are no adequaely proecing heir sudens. TeObama adminisraion recenly used his auhoriy o require several school disrics oproec LGB sudens rom discriminaory and dangerous harassmen and bullying. As Congress debaes he hree anibullying bills ha have been inroduced, he Obamaadminisraion should coninue o use is auhoriy o enorce exising laws, hereby helping o creae sae learning environmens or all sudens.
2Center for American Progress | Comprehensive Federal Approach Needed to Create Safe Schools for All Students
State laws are not sufficient
Congress should pass comprehensive ederal legislaion requiring schools o enacprograms and policies ha reduce and eliminae he harassmen and bullying o LGBsudens. In he absence o a ederal law, saes have woven ogeher a pachwork o poli-cies o proec LGB sudens. Tis policy quil, however, is riddled wih weak pachesand holes ha leave many sudens vulnerable o bullying and harassmen. While mos saes have added some orm o proecion or a leas some sudens,hreesaes currenly have no anibullying policies: Michigan, Monana, and Souh Dakoa.Te eeciveness o he policies in he oher saes varies, as many do no enumerae hecaegories or proecion, leaving i up o individual school disrics o deermine who iscovered by he policy and wheher he perperaors receive mandaed bullying punish-men and counseling.For example,Minnesoa Public Radio’s six-monh invesigaiono bullying in Minnesoaschools concluded ha he sae’s anibullying law oers some o he weakes proec-ions in he naion. Addiionally, he law is also he naion’s shores anibullying law aonly 37 words. Under he law, each individual school disric is lef o deermine is owndeniion o bullying, and broad inerpreaions lead o proecions ha in pracice arenonexisen or, a bes, very weak.Furher, while he law direcs Minnesoa schools o prohibi bullying o “any suden,he lack o enumeraed caegories leaves he implemenaion o he law somewha sub- jecive. One example o how a lack o enumeraed caegories in sae law ranslaes ino weak proecions in specic schools is he “neuraliy rule” a Anoka-Hennepin schooldisric o he norh o Minneapolis-S. Paul. Tis rule prohibis aculy and sa romaking sides in any discussion abou sexual orienaion or LGB issues. I also dissuadeseachers rom speaking in suppor o LGB sudens, and sends a signal ha LGBsudens are no worhy o specic suppor or proecion.Tis school disric already has one o he mos noorious records o bullying in henaion, including repors o sudens being repeaedly harassed because o heir acualor perceived sexual orienaion. Te school disric has an even larger concern wih hesaey and well-being o is sudens, wihnine suden suicidesover he pas wo years,more han any oher disric in he naion. Te ederal governmen is currenly invesi-gaing wheher or no harassmen and bullying conribued o several o he suicides and violence in he disric.Te implemenaion o Minnesoa’s anibullying law demonsraes why bullying poli-cies ha do no enumerae specic caegories o proecion do no help all sudens. Inac,researchshows ha LGB sudens in saes wih generic bullying laws experiencehe same raes o bullying as sudens in saes wih no bullying laws. I a law requires
3Center for American Progress | Comprehensive Federal Approach Needed to Create Safe Schools for All Students
schools o say ha bullying o LGB sudens will no be oleraed, i sends a signal opoenial bullies ha hey will be punished or heir acions, ha his ype o bullying isno oleraed, and ha LGB sudens are valued members o he communiy.o make sure all sudens in every sae have a sae place o learn, ederal legislaion haclearly includes LGB sudens is needed.
Federal authority to intervene on civil rights violations
 While Congress considers ederal anibullying legislaion, he Obama adminisraion isalready using legal ools o remedy hosile environmens ha oser violence and harass-men direced a LGB sudens. Curren law gives he ederal governmen he auhor-iy o invesigae and inervene on a suden’s behal because sexual harassmen againsLGB and gender nonconorming sudens consiues acivil righs violaioni i “cre-aes a hosile environmen and such harassmen is encouraged, oleraed, no adequaely addressed, or ignored by school employees.”Boh ile IV o he Civil Righs Ac o 1964 and ile IX o he Educaion Amendmens o 1972 make i illegal o discriminae based on sex, including boh sex-ual harassmen and discriminaion based on gender nonconormiy. Te EducaionalOpporuniies Secion o he Civil Righs Division a he Deparmen o Jusice, incoordinaion wih he Deparmen o Educaion, has he auhoriy o invesigae viola-ions o righs provided hrough ile IV and ile IX. Any educaional insiuion,including possecondary schools, ha receive ederal nancial suppor are required o be in ull compliance wih civil righs laws ha proec sudens rom harassmen anddiscriminaion.DOJ has indicaedha invesigaing violaions o hese wo provisionsis a op prioriy.
How the Obama administration has already helped
DOE sen a leter o school disricsin Ocober 2010 making hem aware o he specicprovisions in ile IV and ile IX ha enile sudens o anibullying proecions. Inhe leter, he Assisan Secreary or Civil Righs provided examples o harassmen(including ani-LGB behavior) ha violae civil righs laws, ariculaing ha gender- based discriminaion alls wihin he deniion o sex discriminaion i a suden is“harassed eiher or exhibiing wha is perceived as a sereoypical characerisic orheir sex, or or ailing o conorm o sereoypical noions o masculiniy and eminin-iy.” Furher, he deparmen reieraed is responsibiliy or enorcing hese laws, andencouraged school disrics o be more proacive by publicizing policies and proceduresregarding harassmen and acing o proec a harassed suden even i ha suden doesno le a complain.

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