Safe Schools Improvement Act
Bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students, as well as students perceived to be LGBT, is widespread. While current federal law provides important support to promote school safety, it does not comprehensively and expressly focus on bullying or harassment and in no way addresses the unique challenges faced by LGBT youth. Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBT youth contribute to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. When left unchecked, such bullying and harassment can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people.
What is the Safe Schools Improvement Act?
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts in states that receive ESEA funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. The Department of Education would then be required to provide Congress with a report on the state reported data every two years.
Growing up LGBT in America
In order to better understand the experiences of LGBT youth, the Human Rights Campaign conducted a survey of more than 10,000 LGBT teens (ages 13 – 17) across the country on what life is like for them in America today. The largest known survey of LGBT youth ever conducted, it includes LGBT youth from every region of the country, from urban, suburban, and rural communities, and from a wide variety of social, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. The results of the survey are troubling.
LGBT youth experience bullying at school more frequently than their non-LGBT peers. In fact, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion, and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers. Among LGBT youth, 51 percent have been verbally harassed at school, compared to 25 percent among non-LGBT students; 48 percent say they are often excluded by their peers because they are different, compared to 26 percent among non-LGBT students; and 17 percent report they have been physically attacked at school, compared to 10 percent among non-LGBT students.
LGBT youth also identify bullying as a primary problem in their lives. They identified family rejection (26 percent), school/bullying problems (21 percent), and fear of being out or open (18 percent) as the top three problems they face. In comparison, non-LGBT youth identified classes/exams/grades (25 percent), college/career (14 percent), and financial pressures (11 percent) as the top three problems they face. Clearly, LGBT youth spend time worrying about bullying and rejection, while their non-LGBT peers are able to focus on grades, career choices, and the future.
Broad Support from Educators and Administrators
Numerous education, health, law enforcement, and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, and National Parent Teacher Association.
What is the Current Status of the Bill?
SSIA was re-introduced in the 114th Congress in the Senate by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on January 29, 2015.