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Shame on Senate for Failing to Pass Greater Protections Against Bullying

Wednesday, July 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall
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Senator Murray made a floor statement in support of Senator Franken (D-MN) Amendment #2093 to the Every Child Achieves Act, which would end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. He argued passionately over the last few days, about the rights of all children to be protected against bullying.  Needing a 60-vote threshold to be adopted, the amendment failed by a vote of 52-45.

Below is the excerpt from the Congressional Record from Sen Murray’s statement where she highlights Chandler’s story (represented by COPAA Member Marty Cirkiel):

AMENDMENT NO. 2093

   Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to speak in favor of the Franken amendment, which we will be voting on shortly. I want to start with the story of Chandler, who was a 9th grader in Arkansas who experienced daily bullying and harassment. At school, his classmates harassed him based on his perceived sexual orientation. His mom described him as a good kid. She said all he wanted was to fit in, but Chandler couldn't walk down the hall between classes without kids harassing him. He wrote to his school counselor saying he couldn't handle ``being an outcast for four more years.''

   And while teachers knew about the bullying, the school district never put a plan in place to address his concerns. And one day in 2010, Chandler took his own life after enduring endless bullying and tormenting at his school.

   Chandler's story is more than a tragedy, it feels like an all-too-common trend for students across the country.

   As a mother, grandmother, a former educator, and as a citizen, I believe Congress has to act to protect kids such as Chandler. When kids do not feel safe at school, when they are relentlessly bullied because they are different, when they endure harassment simply because of who they are, we have failed to provide them with the educational opportunities they deserve. We have failed them.

   As we debate our Nation's K-12 education bill, we need to do everything we can to prevent bullying, harassment, and discrimination and provide students with a safe learning environment. Today, we will consider an amendment to address the unique challenges LGBT students face.

   I thank Senator Casey for his work on the Safe Schools Improvement Act. It is a bill we will not be voting on but will continue working on. I thank, especially, Senator Franken for his tireless leadership on the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

   On the HELP Committee, I have been a proud cosponsor of this legislation for years, and today I hope all of our Senate colleagues will join us in protecting students from discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

   Discrimination, bullying, and harassment at school leads to students who feel unsafe. It leads to kids who skip classes so they avoid harassment. Some students drop out of school because they don't feel safe there. If students don't feel safe, then there is very little else we can do to improve their education that will matter.

   This type of bullying and harassment can be severe, particularly for LGBT students. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network recently did a survey on the experiences of LGBT youth in our schools. In that survey, 6 out of 10 lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported feeling unsafe at school and 8 out of 10 transgender students said the same.

   Eighty-five percent of LGBT students report they have been harassed because of their sexual or gender identity. Even though bullying and harassment is prevalent for these students, they and their families have limited legal recourse for that kind of discrimination. I believe our students deserve better. The amendment we will be voting on will help to tackle this problem.

   The student non-discrimination amendment would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment would also prohibit any retaliation for lodging a complaint of discrimination. That would give our LGBT students who are suffering from bullying and harassment legal recourse, and it would allow Federal authorities to address discrimination.

   This amendment would offer LGBT students similar protections that currently exist for students who are bullied based on race, gender, religion, disability, or country of national origin. Unless you think LGBT students don't deserve protection from discrimination the way these other students do, this should be easy to support. This amendment is absolutely critical for expanding protections for LGBT students. Again, I thank the junior Senator from Minnesota for his tremendous work.

   I know some of our Republican colleagues have argued that taking steps to prevent bullying would only create lawsuits. But I believe these students deserve justice. Giving students and families legal recourse would help provide that.

   Under this amendment, the process for legal recourse would be similar to title IX, which actually has been on the books since 1972. In the majority of title IX cases, a school is more than willing to fix the problem so it no longer engages in discriminatory practices. After all, school leaders want to do the right thing and end bullying or harassment in their classrooms. They want to make sure their school is safe for a particular group of students. They want to make sure students are not discriminated against simply because of who they are. With this amendment, this same process would be afforded to LGBT students.

   I have also heard some critics of this amendment say there is no need to focus on LGBT students. They don't want to define who would be covered in an anti-discrimination amendment. But that logic doesn't follow what we already know works. There is a reason the civil rights laws of our country clearly define who is protected from discrimination. For example, our civil rights laws make it clear that it is unlawful to discriminate based on race and gender. A generic anti-discrimination policy will not cut it. A vague policy would lead to years of litigation about who is and who is not protected and what legal standards should apply. Making meaningful progress to prevent bullying, harassment, and discrimination requires us to clearly define who will be protected.

   We know LGBT students are being bullied. They are being harassed. They are being discriminated against. Ignoring that fact with vague language doesn't help those students; it does them a real disservice, and it is wrong.

   I urge my colleagues to support this amendment. The pain physical and emotional abuse can cause is tragic.

   In Ohio, a young man named Zach is an openly gay student. Since he was in the third grade, he has been called names at school. That abuse has escalated since then. When he was 16, Zach was physically attacked and repeatedly punched by another student during his third-period class. In a video from the ACLU, Zach's mom said it is not that Zach attended a bad school. She said: ``It's just not a good school for gay or lesbian children.''

   It should not matter what school a child attends; all students deserve a safe learning environment. Bullying and harassment take that away from too many of our Nation's students.

   I want to take a moment to note the historical significance of this debate and the vote we will be taking on shortly. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court settled a question that for decades has been an issue of debate in our country. After years of fighting for equal rights, LGBT couples finally have the guarantee of marriage equality nationwide and the protections that all married couples enjoy.

   I am proud of how far our country has come. Since the Court's ruling, this--right now, today--will be the first vote this body takes on legislation aimed at ending discrimination against LGBT individuals and in this case discrimination against LGBT children in our schools. Surely we can agree that a minority group of students who have long endured bullying, harassment, and discrimination deserves the same protections we afford other groups of students. There is no excuse for a school or for a United States Senator to stand by as our kids endure harassment and discrimination that puts their academic success and emotional well-being in jeopardy. The country will be watching.

I urge our colleagues to support this amendment and give students across the country the assurance that we are on their side.

According to a recent Huffington Post Article a majority of American school districts have no policies protecting LGBT students from bullying, according to a report released Wednesday.

Nearly 30 percent of school districts have no official anti-bullying policy, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which surveyed more than 13,000 school districts. Of the 70 percent of school districts that do have anti-bullying policies, fewer than half explicitly outline protections for students who get bullied because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Only about 14 percent of districts have protections based on gender identity or expression.

Read full article on lack of state protections here


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