Casey and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act along with 18 cosponsors March 8. A companion version in the House is pending.
“In the last year especially we’ve seen the severe and unfortunately enduring effects of school bullying, with news story after news story of tragedy after tragedy where kids are taking their own lives in some instances after facing relentless bullying in schools,” Casey said in a conference call Tuesday.
The measure would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to require all districts in the nation that receive funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to instate antibullying policies that, among other provisions, specifically prohibit harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.
Casey said the statistics relating to anti-LGBT bullying highlight the need for swift action.
“We know that there is one category of students across the country who are targeted, and those are people who might be or who people think might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” Casey said. “In a recent study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, nine in 10 LGBT teens reported harassment in the last year. If it were one in 10 it’d be totally unacceptable, but the fact that there were that many in this survey was particularly disturbing.”
Casey first introduced the bill in August of last year along with 17 cosponsors, but the measure died in committee at the end of the session.
The bill was updated this year to extend to cyberbullying, a component Kirk spearheaded.
“It’s incumbent upon the national legislature to keep up to speed with what’s happening in our country, and cyberbullying is very much part of 21st-century life,” Kirk said, explaining that the definition of bullying in this incarnation of the measure now also encompasses “electronic communications,” in addition to interactions among students on school grounds. “As we’ve seen across the nation, [bullying] can be something written on Facebook or another listserv or blog posting that is utterly destructive to a school learning environment or to the future of the child.”
The SSIA would also require training for educators to contend with bullying and would mandate districts record bullying incidents in reports for the Department of Education.
“We’re trying to be preventive, and these aren’t complicated steps,” Casey said. “We’re basically saying you have to have a code of conduct, you have to train people and you have to keep data. In my experience, in settings where adults are working, you can change behavior if you have a set of rules and you enforce them in a very tough and determined manner. You have to say, ‘This is unacceptable, and you will be sanctioned.’”
Casey said he did not want to predict a timeline for the bill and would work with Kirk and other supporters to explore the best options for passage.
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