At a Thursday press conference, the task force responsible for devising guidelines for a comprehensive D.C. anti-bullying policy presented its plan to Mayor Vincent Gray (D). Bullying has been of particular concern to the LGBT community, with LGBT youth more likely than their straight peers to be bullied.
Under the groundbreaking Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012, passed unanimously by the D.C. Council and signed into law by Gray in June, a task force of D.C. agency heads, teachers, police and other stakeholders drafted the plan to combat bullying for use by various entities including D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), public charter schools and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
As presented by members of the 42-member task force at the John A. Wilson Building, the anti-bullying guidelines indentify three levels of intervention: primary, dealing with prevention strategies applied to all youth and staff; secondary, targeting youth at risk of being a bully or a victim and places where such bullying may occur; and tertiary, dealing with responses to specific incidents. Major recommendations for implementation are establishing a position for a District-wide anti-bullying coordinator and launching an awareness campaign.
”I think the real challenge now lies in what we do with it,” Gray said, pledging his support. ”This can become a document that we all hail and salute, and genuflect before, and years from now say, ‘What ever happened to that bullying policy? I don’t know.’ That is not going to happen.”
Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the bill’s author, and David Catania (I-At Large), head of the Committee on Education, both praised the policy as comprehensive. Catania, in particular, said combating bullying to foster supportive environments is essential to the success of the District’s children in graduating from school and in their academic performance.
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier, a member of the anti-bullying task force, emphasized that a concerted effort to combat bullying among D.C. youth could have a lasting effect far beyond school grounds.
”The other thing I see, and I see it every day, is the impact that bullying has on truancy, and the impact that truancy has on quality of life and all the decisions made by children as they grow up and where they end up if they don’t make it through school,” Lanier said. ”I kind of joke when I say, ‘Bullies often grow up to be criminals,’ but in large part that can be true if we don’t intervene and stop these problems.”
Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the DC Office of Human Rights, said the task force’s next job would be to oversee implementation, and that anti-bullying policies must be in effect by September. Policies adopted by each agency must be approved by the mayor’s office.
Asked about the anti-bullying coordinator position, Imse said the anti-bulling law requires that the coordinator be based in a ”neutral” government agency that does not directly serve youth, such as the Office of Human Rights, Community Affairs or GLBT Affairs.