Anti-Bullying Bill on Track for Vote in D.C.

Long-awaited anti-bullying bill moves forward with some changes, but funding still a concern

On April 20, as students around the country recognized the Day of Silence to remember LGBT students who lost their lives due to bullying or harassment, a D.C. City Council committee took its own steps to address the problem, marking up and voting to send to the full council the Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act.

The bill, which is being sponsored or co-sponsored by 11 of 12 sitting councilmembers, would require D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), D.C. Public Charter Schools (DCPCS), the Department of Parks and Recreation, the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to adopt policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation or bullying on those agencies’ property, at agency-sponsored functions and on school buses.

”Over the last decade, there’s been greater awareness of bullying and intimidation of youth,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, one of the committees to which the bill was referred.

In addition to citing bullying statistics for D.C. schools, and, in particular, statistics on LGBT teens, Wells said that bullying often has an effect on a student’s attendance. Wells said data shows 9 percent of self-identified LGBT students had missed four or more days of school in the past 30 days, compared to 1.8 percent of self-identified heterosexual students.

The bill, which already would require school and government agencies to adopt their own bullying-prevention programs, now also requires that consequences for bullying be tailored to the individual and the situation rather than adopting a ”zero tolerance” approach.

According to Wells, implementation of the bill would cost nothing in fiscal year 2013, $36,000 in 2014, and $31,000 in 2015 and 2016, which D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) states it cannot afford. Nonetheless, Wells said he was confident the matter would be resolved before the council takes a vote on the bill.

Both Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Catania (I-At Large) expressed skepticism about DCPS’s stated inability to absorb costs of less than $40,000.

”What concerns me is that this indicates it is not a priority,” Catania said. ”Otherwise, the response would be different. Sometimes, cost becomes a convenient excuse to avoid a certain responsibility.”

Catania also said he wanted an admission from Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson that foot-dragging on the anti-bullying bill was unacceptable, and that they would make it a priority to find a way to manage the costs of implementation.

Pedro Ribeiro, director of the office of communications for the mayor, said the mayor sees the council’s legislation as complementary to his efforts and ”welcomes their work on the matter.”

Gray earlier announced his own plan to move forward with a task force featuring 14 city agency directors, teachers, parents and advocacy groups, which is tasked with creating model policies and standards for anti-bullying initiatives, based on best practices adopted by other school systems. Gray’s plan will be implemented by the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

Allison Gill, public policy manager for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), said the council bill will provide protections for teachers and students who report incidents of bullying, added at the request of the ACLU and other legal groups.

”I think it’s narrowly tailored enough that it will not cause any issues, and will encourage teachers to report and feel safe in doing so,” Gill told Metro Weekly.

Regarding the fiscal concerns, Gill said, ”This cost is relatively minor. … The bill was drafted in such a way as to make costs as reasonable as possible. It encourages training and the use of free resources that already exist within the community.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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