- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Echoing recent comments by President Obama, federal education officials warned Tuesday that federal funds could be withdrawn from schools, colleges and universities that don’t prevent bullying, harassment and intimidation, which the department says will fall under civil-rights enforcement.

The warning came on the same day the Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter to 15,000 public schools and school districts, and 5,000 colleges and universities.

The guidelines explain to faculty and administrators their legal obligations to establish safe school cultures for students. Violations can trigger federal investigations and enforcement actions, including the loss of federal funding.

The letter and the threat of losing federal money follows the recent suicides of several gay students and a videotaped message from President Obama in which he said bullying is not a “rite of passage.”

“We receive more than 800 complaints on bullying every year,” Russlyn Ali, assistant education secretary for civil rights, said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

School authorities must “stop, fix and prevent” bullying and harassment even when a “victim” does not come forward, Ms. Ali said.

More than 40 states already have anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws on the books. But some special-interest groups, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Leadership Conference, said such laws fail to enumerate protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT).

GLSEN, the Leadership Conference and scores of other organizations urged the Obama administration to develop, enforce and fund education projects to combat bullying and harassment.

“The Department of Justice and the Department of Education should more aggressively use existing authority to enforce current civil rights protections — including Title VI, Title IX, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” the Leadership Conference said at its site.

Critics complained the new guidelines play to gay pressure groups and puts other school safety and security programs, including anti-violence and anti-drug programs, in jeopardy.

“The untold hidden story is an intensified effort by gay-rights and civil-rights advocates to rewrite civil-rights laws,” said Kenneth Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services. “The federal government is overreaching into local schools.”

“Bullying is a serious problem but it needs a comprehensive approach to be a part of overall school safety policies,” Mr. Trump said.

The new guidelines will force local schools to choose between funding programs to combat violence and funding programs to comply with federal LGBT mandates and “then force training and curriculum” onto local schools, he said.

Much of the renewed focus on bullying stems from the recent high-profile deaths of four gay students, including Rutgers sophomore Ty Clementi, who killed himself in September after a homosexual encounter of his was broadcast on the Web.

Last week, in a videotaped message, Mr. Obama said he was “shocked and saddened” by the suicides of young people who were “bullied and taunted for being gay.”

“We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage — that it’s some inevitable part of growing up,” the president said.

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