Lawmakers considering 2 measures; only 1 lists students frequently victimized by bullies
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Students, parents and other members of the Florida Safe Schools Coalition urged lawmakers Monday to pass legislation aimed at preventing bullying and harassment but to oppose a measure they say would weaken existing policies in some districts.
Both bills would require that school districts establish policies prohibiting harassment ranging from teasing to violence. But Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff’s legislation would prohibit singling out certain groups for protection such as racial and ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians.
Bogdanoff, a Republican, said she excluded those categories on advice from Bully Police USA, an organization founded by Brenda High of Pasco, Wash., after her 13-year-old son, Jared, committed suicide in 1998 following constant bullying.
“All children deserve the right to go to school and be safe,” Bogdanoff said. “Mine is an anti-bullying bill that focuses on the behavior of the bully.”
Her bill would scrap policies such as those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that specifically bar harassment based on factors that include gender, ethnicity, race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation, American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman Rebecca Steele said.
“What the [U.S.] Supreme Court and the nation have noticed is that when you are trying to single out and protect people who have been targets of bullying and violence it’s necessary to enumerate categories,” Steele said at a news conference.
Several high school students in the coalition told of being harassed for reasons such as their sexual orientation, disability and ethnic background.
Alex Colon, 17, a gay student at Boone High School in Orlando, said his swimming coach refused to stop teammates from teasing him.
He said the coach told him: “It’s just sport you know boys will be boys.” He said he quit when two teammates tried to drown him.
Ricky Richards, 17, said he had been violent toward gays until he saw a presentation by a peer counselors group at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, where he is a student.
“I stopped and I thought how much pain these kids go through,” Richards said. “It changed me a whole lot.”
The coalition is supporting a bill by Representative Ken Gottlieb, a Democrat, that cites many of the same categories but does not limit prohibited harassment to those characteristics.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 17, 2006.