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November 30, 2010

Anti-bullying hearing goes well despite some carping

Monday's D.C. Council hearing on anti-bullying legislation, which was jointly chaired by Mayor-elect Vincent Gray and Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., went quite well. There is strong support on the Council for comprehensive anti-bullying legislation. My testimony for GLAA is here. Bob Summersgill's is here. Alison Gill's for GLSEN is here.

Tim Craig at WaPo reports:

The proposals, which are still being finalized but appear to have broad support on the 13-member body, mandate that officials conduct thorough and "prompt" investigations into allegations of bullying. They also call for the creation of a detailed reporting system to document episodes of threatening behavior.

But the measures, which could come up for a vote early next year, are sparking division between city leaders and charter school advocates over the council's authority to regulate those academic institutions. The council also could be on a collision course with the American Civil Liberties Union, which worries the initiatives could endanger students' constitutional right to free speech.

"It is perfectly legitimate for a student to say, 'I think homosexual conduct is against the word of God,' " said Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director for the D.C. chapter of the ACLU. "A gay student might feel hurt by that and consider it bullying, but that is an opinion that every student has a right to express."

Craig's article makes Spitzer sound like he's dismissing bullying as a concern, but Spitzer assures me that's not so. ACLU just wants to make sure that the definition of bullying is well defined so as not to fall afoul of free speech protections. Summersgill and I have dealt with them before on this; we look forward to seeing the statement they have promised to submit for the hearing's record, but we don't expect much difficulty over their concerns.

Gary Imhoff of DCwatch also raises free speech concerns, but much less constructively. As he demonstrated during the debate on what is now D.C.'s marriage equality law (when he concealed his homophobia behind demands for a ballot measure, as if our democratically elected legislature were not competent to deal with controversial issues), he wields little influence and is not someone to worry about.

Loose Lips snipes here. LL trivializes the bullying problem by suggesting that it is about punishing mockery. He actually interrupts a quote from the legislation to insert his own (mis)characterization.

Contrary to witness Michael Musante of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (who thinks public charter schools should be exempted from public policy despite receiving public funds), the legislation would not impose a "one size fits all" solution. There is to be a range of consequences for acts of bullying. The bottom line is that all kids deserve a safe learning environment. That is not now the reality, which means more efforts are needed. Several people at Monday's hearing, myself included, noted that passing a bill by itself will not protect any student. There must be leadership, follow-through, and oversight.

Given how busy the Council currently is over budgetary matters, there likely won't be enough time to make various desired tweaks to the anti-bullying legislation in time to mark it up and vote on it before the end of December. So it will have to be taken up by the next Council session. We expect it to be moved promptly then. Thanks to everyone who testified in support, including the DC Center, the DC Trans Coalition, SMYAL, and the Anti-Defamation League.

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