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.
Bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students, as well as students perceived to be LGBTQ+, 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 LGBTQ+ youth. Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ 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.
However, enumerated anti-bullying laws can help reduce these negative outcomes among all students. A Williams Institute analysis of data from the 2015 national school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that students in states with anti-bullying laws that included sexual orientation as an enumerated category were more likely to report feeling safe at school and were associated with lower risk for suicide attempts.
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 (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, 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.
LGBTQ+ youth experience high rates of bullying at school. According to a 2022 HRC and University of Connecticut survey of more than 13,000 LGBTQ+ teens, more than half (51.6%) of LGBTQ+ teenagers have been bullied at school as a result of their LGBTQ+ identities.
In addition, almost half (46.1%) of LGBTQ+ youth, and over half (53.9%) of transgender and gender-expansive youth, report they feel unsafe in at least one setting in their school. Less than one in five (18.6%) LGBTQ+ youth, and only one in seven (14.3%) transgender and gender-expansive youth, always feel safe in the classroom.
These hostile school climates have a negative impact. According to the same HRC/University of Connecticut survey, LGBTQ+ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and physical and verbal harassment at school had worse grades, were more likely to screen positive for anxiety and depression, and were more likely to be afraid their LGBTQ+ identity will negatively impact their college/higher education and career experiences.
Numerous education, health, and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including GLSEN, American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Education Association, and National Parent Teacher Association.
The SSIA was introduced on October 24, 2023, in the House of Representatives by Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38) and Mark Takano (D-CA-39) and in the Senate by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).