While Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs have fully LGBT-inclusive policies, most districts have chosen to adopt the mimimum required wording
By Sept. 1, all school districts in Texas must have comprehensive anti-bullying policies in place. Many districts were waiting until their final meeting in August to adopt a policy and most are using standard minimum wording required by the new law.
Equality Texas interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said that from what he has seen, no other school districts in the state have implemented the progressive policies that Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs have.
“The two most important things are it includes enumeration and mentions the linkage of bullying and discrimination,” Smith said.
Anti-bullying policies in Dallas and Fort Worth have enumerated categories that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Smith said that from what he has seen, most districts are adopting the generic policies prescribed in the law.
The law authored by Republican Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington gives teachers and administrators more options than they had before. For example, under the law, the bully may be transferred to another class or school. Until now, only the victim could be transferred.
Beginning in September, the victim of bullying may no longer be punished for using reasonable self-defense to protect himself. Remarkably, until this provision is enacted, a student defending himself from an attack was often the one punished.
Debbie Ratcliffe, communications director for the Texas Education Agency, said there’s not a monitoring mechanism in the law so districts don’t have to report their policies to her agency. The policy falls under local control, but from what she has seen, districts are taking the new law seriously.
Patrick’s office has been collecting news reports from local papers across the state about districts implementing the anti-bullying policy.
Patrick’s chief of staff, Jenny Goerdel, said she has seen a number of creative new programs being implementing, although she said keeping track of all 1,200 school districts is impossible.
“I’m impressed with the efforts,” she said. “Different communities are taking different approaches.”
Some districts are already having success with policies implemented earlier this year ahead of the deadline. A school in Kingwood, north of Houston, won the highest score nationally for a bullying program it implemented in the fourth and fifth grades.
In Midland in West Texas, an anti-bullying rally took place last weekend sponsored by schools and churches and attended by parents and students. Speakers included law enforcement, and students who attended were offered a week of free self-defense training. The local newspaper called bullying “rampant” in Midland schools.
Goerdel said that Lufkin and Nacagdoches in East Texas began an ad campaign targeting parents.
Tyler completed a training program for principals that Goerdel called “above and beyond” what the law requires.
A number of North Texas school districts including Irving, Keller and Carrollton-Farmers Branch have adopted “Talk About It.” Students can send an anonymous text message or email about any bullying they observe or if they’ve had suicidal thoughts. The system creates reports that will help administrators and teachers keep an eye on bullies and victims.
Goerdel said she hopes districts will share their successes as they begin implementing the law.
Cy Fair ISD covers parts of Houston and northwest Harris County. Asher Brown, a gay Cy Fair student who was bullied, committed suicide in September 2010. A year earlier, an incident in that district involved a student who was beaten with a metal pipe after being threatened on his school bus and then chased through his neighborhood by a group of classmates who reportedly wanted to “beat the gay out of him.”
Cy Fair has installed cameras on all of its school buses.
In the 2012-13 Student Code of Conduct, the district does not enumerate categories of bullying but the policy does meet new state minimum standards.
Students are expected to “report any acts of bullying.” Punishment is vague in the policy, which only says the district will provide methods of discipline appropriate for each grade level.
In 2011, Flour Bluff High School near Corpus Christi allowed a Gay Straight Alliance to meet only after intervention by the American Civil Liberties Union. Then in April 2012, a teenager at the high school committed suicide.
Flour Bluff ISD appears to have gotten the message and is taking bullying seriously.
On the homepage of its website, Flour Bluff has a button marked “report a bully.”
At the top of the report page appears a “crime stoppers” logo along with Corpus Christi police and Nueces County sheriff’s shields indicating the district is treating bullying as criminal activity. Once reported, an investigator will be assigned.
“We take bullying seriously,” said Flour Bluff spokeswoman Lynn Kaylor. The page was just posted this summer, so it’s too early to tell whether it’s been effective.
The two largest school districts in North Texas are dealing with bullying by putting extensive policies and procedures in writing.
Dallas has had its new policy in place for more than a year. Students have reported more success with the policy on some campuses than on others.
Jon Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth called the policy his city’s school district adopted “probably the most effective in the country.”
Certainly, Fort Worth has one of the best-thought-out policies.
“The process began almost two years ago with the Diversity Task Force,” Nelson said, referring to the group that was formed in response to the Rainbow Lounge raid.
Although Fort Worth already had one of the better anti-bullying policies, Nelson said Fairness Fort Worth wanted to make sure the district’s was truly inclusive and effective. He did quite a bit of research into what worked in other areas.
“Training. Dissemination of policy. Tracking efficacy of the policy,” he said. “A buy-in from the administration top down that this wasn’t just a piece of paper.”
He said that clear guidelines had to be written detailing what would happen if there were violations. A reporting process had to be created. Investigations begin within 10 days.
“And the superintendent made it very clear he supports the policy,” Nelson said.
He said that under the Fort Worth policy, everyone is entitled to respect. Using a religious excuse to bully another student is unacceptable. He said it isn’t a question of someone’s religious beliefs that being gay is right or wrong.
“But if someone is gay, they’re entitled to respect,” he said.
What Texas’ new anti-bullying law does
• Establishes a new bullying definition that includes bullying through electronic means;
• Integrates awareness, prevention, identification, and resolution of and intervention in bullying into the health curriculum;
• Provides local school boards with discretion to transfer a student found to have bullied to another classroom or to another campus in consultation with the parent or guardian; and
• Requires local school districts to adopt and implement a bullying policy that recognizes minimum guidelines, such as prohibition of bullying, providing counseling options, and establishing procedures for reporting an incidence of bullying.
Source: Equality Texas
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 24, 2012.