WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign and the National Education Association applauds the reintroduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Robert Casey and Sen. Mark Kirk. SSIA would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. Additionally, the SSIA would require the Department of Education to provide Congress with a report on the state reported data, along with other specified data, every two years.
“The mental and emotional well-being of too many young people has been put at risk because they were bullied or harassed at school,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We place our children in grave danger when we fail to adequately help school administrators and teachers create safe learning environments for all students, including those who are actually or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
“Every child has a right to a safe place to learn,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “NEA strongly supports the Safe Schools Improvement Act and ridding schools of bullying and harassment. Our children are America’s greatest resource. And as educators, we want nothing more than to create a climate of civility and respect for all students, including LGBT students, in every public school.”
“I am pleased to introduce the Safe Schools Improvement Act to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence,” said Sen. Casey. “This bill is a crucial step towards ensuring that no child is so afraid to go to school that he or she stays home for fear of bullying.”
Bullying and harassment of students who are actually or perceived to be LGBT is widespread. While current federal law provides important support to promote school safety, it does not comprehensively and expressly focus on issues of bullying or harassment, and in no way addresses the challenges faced by LGBT youth in our nation’s schools.
According to a 2009 School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 8 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; more than 60 percent of LGBT students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than a third of LGBT students felt unsafe because of their gender expression; 40 percent of LGBT students reported being physically harassed in school because of their sexual orientation; and nearly one-third of LGBT students nationwide said they had missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. Numerous education, health, law enforcement and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association.
The SSIA was first introduced in the Senate during the 111th Congress by Sen. Casey. The House version of the bill was previously introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA). Additional cosponsors of the current Senate Safe Schools Improvement Act include Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).