Columbus--An anti-bullying bill in an Ohio House of Representatives committee will face a slate of changes when it next comes up for discussion, but advocates for LGBT youth believe those changes do not go far enough.
A sub-bill to House Bill 276, introduced by the bill�s sponsor, State Rep. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, follows Ohio School Board Association recommendations to clarify the requirements schools would face under the legislation to prevent, punish and report bullying.
However, despite intensive lobbying efforts from LGBT groups including chapters of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, youth organizations and others, the sub-bill still does not enumerate groups of people who should be covered.
�We appreciate that at least some effort is being put forward to create a safe learning environment in Ohio�s schools, but we know from the research that if you have a bill without clear language, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and other at-risk students remain vulnerable to harassment and bullying,� said Equality Ohio executive director Lynne Bowman.
�Legislators seem to think that listing at-risk groups in the bill language creates �special� groups and excludes others,� she continued. �In reality, identifying the most at-risk students in the bill does not preclude schools from enforcing anti-bullying policies beyond the listed groups.�
�It simply clarifies the expectations so that we can be certain those students who need this bill don�t slip through the cracks at the local level,� she concluded.
Mika Major, the youth programs coordinator for the Cleveland Lesbian and Gay Center and the co-chair of GLSEN Northeast Ohio, also believes that the sub-bill only does half the job.
�It still falls vastly short of where it needs to be,� she noted. �They are forcing courts to take action where our representatives refuse to.�
�If our courts are the only brave aspect of our system, then thank God we have them,� she opined.
Courts in other states have ruled against schools and districts that failed to protect students from bullying, including anti-gay harassment. In many of those cases, schools were forced to pay large settlements to former students.
�Nationally, schools in states with unclear safe schools legislation have been subjected to expensive lawsuits as a result,� said Bowman. �Presented with that evidence, we expected fiscal conservatives to have been in favor of the language we proposed. However, that has not yet been the case.�
�To date, we�ve not found a supportive member of the Republican Party on the committee,� she lamented. �We have reached out to both sides of the aisle to get language in this bill that can really make a difference in schools.�
She pointed to State Rep. Brian G. Williams, D-Akron, as a member who was �receptive, and we are working with his office to see what options are available.�
�We need citizens to contact members of the House Education Committee,� she urged. �Let the members know that it is important to only support a bill that will assure protection for all students, rather than taking the easy route and supporting a bill just because it will �make it through the process.��
Bowman pointed to the 2005 Harris Report �From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America� which indicates that students in districts with policies that explicitly protect based on sexual orientation or gender identity do better in school, have lower truancy levels and feel safer overall. The report was provided to every member of the Education Committee.
�The Harris Report is irrefutable, but for some reason the House Education Committee is ignoring the evidence and creating a weak bill that will ultimately keep out youth vulnerable,� she concluded.�
The committee is expected to take up the sub-bill after the beginning of the new year.
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