From Mary K. Bruce:
The Department of Education will issue guidance today clarifying that certain forms of student bullying violate federal education anti-discrimination laws. The White House will also announce that it is hosting a conference on bullying early next year to raise awareness and educate parents, students, and teachers about the tools available to prevent harassment.
“We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” President Obama said in a written statement. “We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. Every single young person deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential, without having to worry about the constant threat of harassment.”
Although current laws do not protect against harassment based on sexual orientation, they do protect against the harassment of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered individuals based on gender stereotypes. The current federal policy is the same as it was under the Bush administration.
“We are not creating new policy…. We are making clear [to schools] what their responsibilities are,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said on a conference call Monday afternoon. “Where it transcends just sexual orientation discrimination and becomes about gender stereotyping or not conforming to traditional gender roles, that very well could rise to the level of a violation of Title IX”
The guidance, in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools, explains to educators their legal obligation to protect students from harassment and bullying.
The administration’s call to action comes in response to the recent wave of gay teen suicides. “Certainly, the unspeakable tragedies over the last several weeks contribute to our sense of urgency and it's important that the public know that there are things that schools and universities can and should be doing to help prevent such tragedies from occurring,” Ali told reporters on the call.
“Bullying is a problem that shouldn't exist. No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “To every student who feels threatened or harassed — for whatever reason — please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”
–Mary K. Bruce