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D.C. mulls anti-bullying law

Gays included in protection

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2010

Missouri lawmakers recently adopted a gender-neutral anti-bullying law, while the D.C. Council is considering legislation that adopts recommendations proposed by a gay rights group.

Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers earlier this week introduced an "anti-bullying bill of rights" that an advocate said would be the toughest state law of its kind in the nation. And, school officials in Alameda, Calif., are implementing anti-bullying policies by adopting new textbooks and curricula that teach grade-school children about different types of families, including reading a book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin.

States have had anti-bullying laws since 1999, but some versions are being urged by civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and gay organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to spell out special protections for the gay community.

Now some anti-bullying proponents question whether the overemphasis on gender will give short shrift to the very real problem of violence by and against youths.

"Teasing and bullying arent an issue in our community. Youths killing and maiming other youths is," said Ron Moten, co-founder of the anti-youth-violence group Peaceoholics. "The new movement is not about children. Its about politics."

Besides, Mr. Moten said, schools cant "police everything a kid says."

The D.C. bill titled the "Harassment and Intimidation and Prevention Act of 2010" would hold school, library and recreation officials responsible for developing anti-bullying policies.

In 1999, Georgia became the first state to adopt an anti-bullying law. The District would join Georgia, Missouri, California and 42 other states, but the one under consideration in the District reaches far beyond the newly adopted measure in Missouri, which excludes gender, race and other political characterizations.

The Missouri measure states: "Each district's antibullying policy shall be founded on the assumption that all students need a safe learning environment. Policies shall treat students equally and shall not contain specific lists of protected classes of students who are to receive special treatment. Policies may include age-appropriate differences for schools based on the grade levels at the school. Each such policy shall contain a statement of the consequences of bullying."

In New Jersey, the proposal would require anti-bullying programs in public K-12 schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying. The original law, passed eight years ago, only encouraged anti-bullying programs and wasn't doing enough, state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat from Metuchen, told the Associated Press.

Both the Missouri and D.C. measures include cyberbullying, e-mails as acts of bullying, intimidation and harassment.

But the D.C. measure also proposes faculty training programs and places special emphasis on gender-related characteristics, including gender, sexual orientation, gender expressions and gender identity — enumerations cited in GLSENs "Four Steps Schools Can Take to Address Anti-LGBT Bullying and Harassment" plan.

"Enumeration is crucial to ensure anti-bullying policies are effective for all students," GLSEN says on its website.

It also urges faculty training "to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner."

Further, it proposes establishing "age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole."

And therein lies the conundrum in Alameda County.

Parents there staged a legal fight last year after the school board decided to add "LGBT Lesson #9" to its anti-bullying curriculum for grade-school students. Opponents complained when they learned first-graders would be taught about same-sex families.

Parents wanted to be able to opt out their children from the instruction, but the school board said no. They then sought legal relief, but a judge denied their request.

The board adopted more than 20 books for the reading list, including "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "And Tango Makes Three," the book about the penguins.

Mr. Moten and Candi Cushman, an education and social policy analyst with Denver-based Focus on the Family, said the gender emphasis is misplaced.

"Bullying is a serious problem in the nation and it has serious outcomes, but we think emphasis should be put not on characterizations of the victims but on the actions of the bullies. Bullies are always going to have a reason," she said. "You dont want to give them credence."

Mr. Moten agreed, adding that "we need to eliminate the excuses for youths behavior and hold them accountable."

Some D.C. lawmakers dont expect to hold a hearing on the bill before January, when the new mayor is sworn in, and D.C. Council member Michael Brown said there may be loopholes that will need to be closed.

For example, Mr. Brown said he and his colleagues dont want students or teachers to fall victim to such open-ended terms as "any" real or perceived verbal offensive, which could innocently occur during a dramatic historical presentation or if a teacher uses a derogatory term in instructing a student about words that are off-limits.

D.C. Public Schools officials support the council bill.

"DCPS is fully committed to developing a culture where bullying, of any kind, is not tolerated," said schools spokeswoman Safiya Simmons. "In fact, we have already captured many of the elements of this act through our revisions of Chapter 25 in the D.C. Regulations. We look forward to working with the Council as this bill moves forward."

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