May 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Anti-Bullying Legislation Introduced in D.C.

This month, the District of Columbia will consider a bill introduced by Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. titled the Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011. The bill requires District public schools, public charter schools, public libraries, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the University of the District of Columbia to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies that will protect youth from bullying, harassment, or intimidation and provide consequences for those who engage in such activities. Currently, the District of Columbia is one of few jurisdictionsin the country that does not have statutory regulations to protect students from bullying, leaving the victims of bullying without a proper forum through which to report these offenses. Activists, including the D.C. Safe Schools Coalition, have been working closely with city officials to establish the guidelines for the bill and have praised the legislation for providing comprehensive anti-bullying guidelines and allowing each city agency to tailor policy to meet its specific needs.
 
Comprehensive anti-bullying policies have been proven across the nation to be an effective approach to making schools safe places where students feel at home and can learn freely without worry of being harassed. This anti-bullying measure aims to make schools and other District facilities safe environments for all students and provide supportive academic spaces for everyone. By emphasizing preventative education, passage of the bill would ensure that students and teachers are educated on issues of bullying, harassment, and tolerance and given the tools they need to prevent bullying in the future, making schools a place where all students can achieve optimal learning.
 
Each policy established must cover a few basic tenets as outlined in the act. First, each policy must prohibit bullying, harassment or intimidation as defined by the city council. Their definition states that “harassment, intimidation or bullying means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act, including electronic communication, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap.” Additionally, each policy must set a standard of expected behavior and discuss the consequences or appropriate remedial action for those who do not follow the expected conduct. Each policy is also expected to establish a procedure for investigating claims of bullying and the ways an entity will respond to any incident. Finally, the city council requires that each policy contains information on how to handle false claims and prescribe consequences for those who wrongly accuse someone of bullying.[1]
 
In order to garner support for the bill, the D.C. Safe Schools Coalition held a rally on April 21 outside of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the offices of the mayor and city council. Mayor Vincent Gray, in cooperation with the Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs, declared April 21 as Bully Free D.C. Day in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and put an end to bullying. Mayor Gray expressed his concern about the growing issue of bullying, stating that “[it] is a problem that is increasingly terrorizing more young people at school.” He proclaimed, “Bully Free DC Day will help combat this problem. . . . I call upon the residents to join me in increasing public awareness about the growth and ill effects of the behavior we know as bullying.”[2]
 
Although supporters of the bill agree with its intentions, they have identified some issues in need of further consideration. To begin with, a compendium of other anti-bullying regulations within the District is needed in order to avoid overlegislating. Further, the bill lacks an implementation plan, without which the impact of the bill is questionable. It also does not include standards to ensure accountable reporting. In the absence of such data, the bill’s results could go unmeasured. Finally, the legislation does not protect against bullying and harassment for all characteristics defined in the D.C. Human Rights Act. Advocates hope that the bill will be amended to consider these factors.[3] “It does not benefit students to pass a new anti-bullying law unless there are real accountability standards and implementation processes in place,” stated Alison Gill, public policy manager for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network at a hearing on the measure held on May 5.
 
The bill has been assigned to the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole and to the Committee on Libraries, Parks, and Recreation.[4] If it passes, each entity will have 90 days to adopt an anti-bullying policy and will be required to submit a copy of it to the council.
 
 
 


[1] District of Columbia Legislature, 2011, Regular Session, Bill 19-11, accessed 15 June 2011, http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/images/00001/20110106120649.pdf.
[2] “DC Fights Back against Bullying,” NBC Washington, 21 April 2011, accessed 15 June 2011 http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/DC-Fights-Back-Against-Bullying-120349314.html.
[3] Lou Chibbaro Jr., “D.C. Council Urged to Strengthen Anti-bullying Bill,” Washington Blade, 5 May 2011, accessed 15 June 2011, http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/05/05/d-c-council-urged-to-strengthen-anti-bullying-bill/.
[4] Ibid.