We have been greatly affected by the high incidence of students who have taken their lives over recent weeks. In light of these tragedies, we are redoubling and refocusing our efforts at the state and local level, to pass comprehensive anti-bullying policies to protect students wherever possible.
Maryland - District Policies
We are excited to announce a victory in Frederick, Maryland! Although Maryland has a fully enumerated anti-bullying law that requires school districts to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies, unfortunately certain school districts have not complied. In Frederick, we were able to work with local and student advocates, including a former GLSEN Jump-Start Student Leader, and the school district to pass an anti-bullying policy which complies with Maryland law and includes enumerated protections for LGBT students. Student advocates continue to work with the district to ensure strong training programs, publication of the new policy, and implementation of an anti-bullying taskforce
Massachusetts - Notification and Our Concern
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) proposed a model anti-bullying policy and regulations regarding notification of parents with regard to incidents of bullying and harassment. While we were pleased that the model policy recognized the at-risk nature of LGBT students, we feel that a more full enumeration that includes other categories of marginalized students, such as race, religion, disability, and gender as well as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, would create a stronger policy with clear protections for all students.
GLSEN, as well as several partner organizations including PFLAG, MassEquality, GLAD, and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, submitted comments on the proposed regulations discussing the importance of notification standards that take into account the safety, privacy, and well-being of LGBT students. Unfortunately, through their final regulations, DESE chose to leave the issue of notification to individual school districts. Our concern is that some LGBT students will be afraid to report bullying and harassment for fear that they will be outed to their parents, which, unfortunately, can result in such tragedies as ejection from the home and abuse. It is vital that work continues at the local level in Massachusetts to ensure that school districts protect the safety and well-being of ALL students
Minnesota - Crisis Level
We have been working with several partner organizations, including OutFront Minnesota, the Anoka-Hennepin Gay Equity Team, the Trevor Project, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to address the crisis levels of bullying and harassment and resultant suicides that have taken place in Minnesota. We know that in the past two years, there have been at least 9 student suicides, of which, at least 4 are related to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. In fact, the Anoka-Hennepin school district has been labeled a suicide contagion risk by the state and given additional funding to combat this issue. And yet, the district has failed to provide basic training for teachers that covers LGBT bullying and harassment, failed to update its anti-bullying policy to include specific enumeration of at-risk students such as LGBT students, and it continues to cling to an outmoded "neutrality policy" on sexual orientation that is used to punish and undermine LGBT supportive educators and LGBT students.
Minnesota has one of the most progressive nondiscrimination statutes in the country, and we believe that it can and should be an example for other states on how to provide a safe and supportive school environment for all students. We are firmly committed to continue our work with local organizations to support policy change in Anoka-Hennepin.
New Hampshire - Parental Rights
The first so-called parental rights bill of the new legislative session was pre-filed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Of course GLSEN fundamentally supports the productive, thorough, and informed engagement of parents in the educational development and well-being of every child. However, these bills often create burdensome new requirements on educators and schools that harm student education and health while doing little to foster parental involvement in their children's education. Moreover, these bills have the potential to harm LGBT students by denying them access to supportive educators, resources, and bullying prevention. While a similar bill stalled last year in New Hampshire, a parental rights bill was passed in Arizona last session over the well-founded objections of the school boards, educators, health education groups, and even the Arizona Department of Education. We hope that the New Hampshire legislature kills this dangerous legislation.
New Jersey - Strengthening Laws
Advocates in New Jersey and organizations such as Garden State Equality are working with state legislators to put forward an anti-bullying and harassment bill which would strengthen existing New Jersey law. While New Jersey already has a comprehensive, enumerated anti-bullying statute, the legislation would add teeth to the law, bring all school districts into compliance, and create stronger protections for NJ students. Following the recent tragedy at Rutgers University, the proposed bill will also apply to public colleges and universities, creating anti-bullying policies for the first time in NJ for higher education.
New York - DASA Implementation:
Governor Paterson signed the historical anti-bullying Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) on the first day of school last month. He also announced the creation of an implementation taskforce, on which GLSEN was happy to take a leading role and share our expertise in creating safe schools for all students. This taskforce will oversee a number of working groups, including those which will develop model policies for districts and also create suitable professional development modules for educators. This taskforce will move forward and begin its work within the next few months, with full implementation of DASA expected in 2012.
Pennsylvania - Advocates
Although the comprehensive anti-bullying bill introduced in the Pennsylvania House by Representative Rick Taylor has not seen movement this year, we working with the sponsor and partner organizations to see that the bill moves forward in the coming legislative session. Recently, we have coordinated with "Out in the Silence" director Joe Wilson and GLSEN Ambassador Joey Kemmerling to advocate for the bill in venues around the state. We are also planning advocacy training with the support and assistance of GLSEN's Pittsburgh Chapter to ensure that students, parents, and local advocates have the tools they need to support this important legislation.