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By John Riley
June 7, 2012
The D.C. Council unanimously passed a comprehensive anti-bullying bill Tuesday adding the District to the list of 15 states that have passed anti-bullying laws with specific protections for gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation.
At the council’s June 5 legislative meeting, Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), who has since resigned, removed the bill from the consent agenda in order to add a technical amendment that clarified provisions for immunity granted to those who report bullying.
The bill, The Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012, caps off more than a year of legislative wrangling to pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that includes LGBT protections. Originally introduced in January 2011, the bill stalled in a logjam that followed a mid-year shuffling of committee chairs in which Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) replaced Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as chair of the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, which had jurisdiction over the bill.
As amended, the bill requires Mayor Vincent Gray (D) to establish a bullying-prevention task force, which will commission a report and create model policy and standards for anti-bullying initiatives, which will then be carried out by the agencies that deal with District youth, such as 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). The task force will be made up of 14 city agency directors, including Jeffrey Richardson of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy Lanier; as well as teachers, parents and representatives of advocacy groups such as the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates (DC AYA).
The legislation requires each agency, as well as their grantees and contactors, to adopt policies that comply with the standards set by the mayoral task force to prohibit harassment, intimidation or bullying on those agencies’ property, at agency-sponsored functions and on school buses. The bill also provides protections for victims or witnesses of bullying from retaliation by employees, students or volunteers at those agencies.
GLSEN released a statement praising the council for passing the bill and urging Mayor Gray to sign the bill into law as soon as possible. If Gray signs the bill, as expected, it will then undergo a 30-day congressional review period.
”GLSEN’s Office of Public Policy has partnered with District agencies such as the D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Office of Human Rights to assist with city-wide efforts addressing the issue of bullying,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said, as quoted in the GLSEN release. ”We look forward to expanding this role under this legislation as a member of the Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force that will investigate and provide solutions for the needs of students in school.”
GLSEN Public Policy Manager Alison Gill said the legislation provides guidance to the task force on the definitions of bullying and the provisions that must be included in any anti-bullying initiatives, so there’s no need to ”reinvent the wheel.”
”I think that this bill gives the task force the tools it needs to move forward with implementing a model policy for people who deal with youth across the city,” Gill said.
Particularly strong elements of the legislation, she added, are including protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, ”whistleblower” protections for teachers or other employees of service agencies, appeal opportunities for both students who claim to be bullied and those accused of bullying, and the scope of the bill’s enforcement in terms of not limiting its reach to schools and school property.
”There has not been an anti-bullying bill passed with the wide applicability of this one,” Gill said. ”It goes beyond schools to affect all youth-serving agencies within the District.”
Gill said she expects task force recommendations to be implemented about a year after the legislation completes its 30-day congressional review.