Removal of LGBT references makes anti-bullying bills weaker, but more likely to pass

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Instant Tea reported Monday that the reporting requirement proposed by the “big” anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report — with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama, D-Travis County) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis, D-Fort Worth) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Let’s face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good — there is no getting around that. But (and it’s an extremely ambivalent “but”) the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the Legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

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Facebook backs Texas anti-bullying bill

The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:

“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”

Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:

“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”

The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:

Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.

Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.



—  John Wright