Today, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) in the U.S. Senate. The SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (part of the No Child Left Behind Act) to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion. It would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. This is the first time the SSIA has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. However, earlier this Congress, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the SSIA in the House (H.R. 2262).
“Too many kids have dropped out of school, hurt themselves, or even taken their own lives because they were bullied or harassed at school,” said Human Rights Campaign 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.”
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 2007 School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, nearly 9 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; nearly 45 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 this federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, American Association of University Women, Asian American Justice Center, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and the National Council of La Raza.