Obama takes on bullies at White House anti-bullying summit
President Obama showcased federal, state, local initiatives to address bullying, at a White House webcast on bullying prevention.
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On the federal level, Sens. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois and Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania this week reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools, specifically addressing commonly targeted populations such as members of a minority race, religion, or sexual orientation.Skip to next paragraph
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A 2005 survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network found that students were less likely to face serious harassment at schools with such comprehensive policies than at schools lacking those policies.
Another bill, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, is being introduced Thursday in the Senate and House by Sen. Al Franken (D) of Minnesota and Rep. Jared Polis (D) of Colorado. It would protect students from discrimination, including harassment “based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” in public elementary and secondary schools.
But laws on the books can’t do much if schoolteachers and other staff aren’t given guidance about how to respond when bullying is reported.
Knowing that schools are burdened with tight budgets and little time, the US Department of Education has been trying to provide some help on this front.
Through its Office for Civil Rights it has sent out letters of guidance to school districts and colleges about educators’ responsibility to protect students from harassment. It has also sent out a memo to chief state school officers outlining key components of effective anti-bullying laws and policies. And the Department will be creating a technical assistance center for schools, dedicated specifically to bullying prevention, officials announced today.
Eleven states have also received grants from the Education Department to measure school safety and put prevention efforts into place in the schools most in need. “This is the first time we’ve asked students directly what’s going on in their schools... and the states [receiving the grants] have to make the results public so parents can know how safe the school is,” says Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary of the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
The kids willing to stand up against bullying need to be treated as heroes, several experts noted.
“We need to rewrite the culture... so it’s not ‘ratting.’ We need to reward reporting,” Lipkins says.