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April 20, 2011

GLAA endorses Bully Free DC

GAY AND LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
P. O. Box 75265, Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kwame Brown, Chairman
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 504
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Chairman Brown:

GLAA, which was founded 40 years ago today, is pleased to support Bully Free DC and Bill 19-0011, the Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011. We commend Councilmembers Michael Brown, Harry Thomas Jr., and all of the co-introducers and co-sponsors of this important bill. As I stated last November 29 in testimony on the previous legislation, GLAA has been working on this and related issues since we persuaded the D.C. Board of Education in May 1972 to prohibit discrimination in the public schools on the basis of sexual orientation.

We believe that comprehensive anti-bullying legislation should apply to D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Public Charter Schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the D.C. Public Library, and the University of the District of Columbia. We are aware that the charter schools tend to object to any restrictions being placed upon them, but schools receiving public funds should be expected to abide by public policy.

The District has a good bit of history on this subject. Responding to efforts spearheaded by GLAA in 1999 (here and here) and 2000 (here and here), then-School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman issued a directive prohibiting harassment and sexual harassment on March 29, 2000. It was not until February 2002 that hearings were held on a proposed rulemaking to fulfill the directive’s promise, at which then-GLAA President Bob Summersgill testified. In March 2001, Mr. Summersgill wrote on behalf of GLAA to then Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz to alert her to the omission of several protected categories from the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) in a “Notice of Final Rulemaking” on D.C. Public Charter Schools. The Board subsequently corrected the omission.

Also in 2001, Summersgill supported rewriting the definition of “Unlawful discriminatory practice” in DCHRA to explicitly include harassment as a form of discrimination. This was subsequently done by the Council.

Since then, the city has made other efforts, just as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has conducted studies documenting the problem here and elsewhere. Clearly, bullying and harassment are continuing, which brings us to the present legislation.

As GLSEN emphasizes, an effective anti-harassment policy must include enumeration of types of bullying and harassment (the policy is toothless unless you spell them out); procedures for reporting and investigating incidents; the option of anonymous reporting; provisions against retaliation and false accusations; a range of penalties for confirmed violations; publication of the policy; and a training requirement for educators and students.

We agree with GLSEN that the bill should also enumerate “ethnicity” and cover students targeted for associating with others who have the enumerated characteristics; and should require each school and covered agency to publish an aggregate report of incidents, as well as a breakdown of the specific types of bullying and harassment. There should be penalties for teachers who ignore bullying that they witness, and rewards for those who act to protect students. The bill should include the complete list of categories from the D.C. Human Rights Act.

It is important to avoid approaches that would have the effect of punishing schools for reporting incidents of bullying. If anything, schools should be punished for not reporting such incidents. No one is helped by artificially low statistics that result from under-reporting. And it is essential that individual school principals who hold a different view not be permitted to set their own de facto policies.

Without effective implementation and enforcement, even a model policy is a paper tiger. Success requires clear and visible leadership; involvement of stakeholders; follow-through by school officials and officials of other covered agencies; and continued oversight by the Council. After so many efforts over so many years, it is time to make the protection of all District students the norm. All of our young people deserve a safe environment for learning.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs

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