As the school year begins, we must ensure every child can reach their full potential.

Hopes run high at the start of a new school year, as students return with curiosity about new teachers, classes and the opportunity to make new friends.  For many children, however, the return to school brings a deep feeling of dread.  Students who are persistently bullied come to school fearing harassment that undercuts their self-esteem and ability to focus in class.

Pennsylvania educators, parents and students often share with me reports of incidents that far surpass usual “kids will be kids” joking.  Instead, they share upsetting stories of youth who are repeated targets for anything that makes them different, including their race, physical abilities, religion or sexual orientation.  These stories include all ages and come from suburban, urban and rural parts of the Commonwealth.  Social networking sites, email and other electronic communication can intensify the harassment by making bullied students feel threatened even in their own homes.  Aside from the depression that results from bullying, I also worry about the higher dropout rates, increased absenteeism and academic underachievement that frequently accompany bullying.

In the United States Senate I have introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, legislation to address bullying and harassment.  This bipartisan legislation will require schools and districts receiving federal funding to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act will not impact curriculum, but instead will give schools the flexibility to develop the most appropriate strategy to prevent and respond to bullying.  The fresh start of a new school year reminds us of our responsibility to ensure that every child goes to school secure enough to reach their full potential.