WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of teens bullied for being gay or perceived to be gay has reached “epidemic proportions in America,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ve seen tragedy after tragedy connected with teen bullying, often with fatal results, and I figured we have to do something about it right now,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said.
Casey and Mark Kirk, a Republican senator from Illinois, introduced anti-bullying legislation Tuesday — the Safe Schools Improvement Act — that would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Schools would also have to track their bullying cases and report that data to the Department of Education. The act would also require the Department of Education to provide Congress with a report on the state data, along with other specified data, every two years.
The schools’ data will be available to teachers and to parents of the students involved in the incidents.
“The mental and emotional well-being of too many young people has been put at risk because they were bullied or harassed at school,” Casey said. “Our children are placed in danger when we fail to adequately help school administrators and teachers create safe learning environments for all students.”
Said Kirk: “Every child has a right to a safe place to learn. Our children are America’s greatest resource. And we want nothing more than to create a climate of civility and respect for all students, including most often bullied lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students, in every public school.”
Casey cited statistics that nine out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered students reported harassment in the past year.
“Even if that number were one out of 10, it would be totally unacceptable,” he said.
Another shocking statistic, Casey said, is that children with disabilities are two to three times affected by bullying.
“That,” he said, “is another outrage.”
Bullying and harassment affect millions of students every year, Kirk said.
“And while we do have federal laws to provide support to promote school safety, there is nothing currently in place to comprehensively and expressly address issues of bullying and cyber-bullying or harassment,” he said.
Kirk and Casey specifically mentioned cyber-bullying on Facebook and other social networks.
“Sadly, cyber-bullying is now a fact of life in America,” Casey said. “Our children need to feel protected and safe so they can learn, and I hope the Casey-Kirk bill will encourage schools and districts to develop effective prevention and response protocols. If kids don’t feel safe in school, it’s our fault, as teachers, administrators and legislators.”
Don’t wait for this legislation to pass both chambers of Congress, Casey said of school districts.
“Put together a code of conduct and be strict about it,” he said. “You can change behavior if you tell students, ‘Bullying under any circumstance, that kind of behavior, will not be tolerated.’”