Columbus--The Ohio House Education Committee heard testimony in support of anti-bullying legislation September 13. The measure does not specifically protect LGBT students, because it does not name any groups that it protects.
The bill, H.B. 276, was introduced last May by Rep. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, at the request of one of his constituents who is affiliated with the Bully Police USA of California, a self-described watchdog organization advocating for bullied children.
Its founder, Brenda High, lost her 13-year-old son to suicide after he was bullied. However, she believes that naming LGBT students and other groups in the bill will �cause several problems for lawmakers� and �slow the process of lawmaking, dividing political parties who will argue which victims get special rights over other victims.�
Stewart agrees, and did not name the types of victims to be protected for that reason.
His spokesperson, Courtney Saunders, said at the time, �I know [Stewart] would entertain the discussion of defining groups or victims, but not at the cost of holding up passage of the bill.�
The bill requires school systems to adopt anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, and requires the state auditor to report on violations in each districts� annual report.
But it does not specify who is to be covered by the policies, or require the state board of education to enumerate who is to be covered in the model policy local boards would be required to develop.
Currently, school systems in Ohio have no such requirements.
Advocates for LGBT students, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, say laws written this way are toothless because many school systems, particularly those in areas unfriendly to LGBT people, don�t recognize anti-gay harassment as harassment.
GLSEN maintains that only laws that specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity give teachers and administrators the ability to protect LGBT kids, even when the community dislikes them.
�We all agree that all children should be protected,� said GLSEN deputy executive director Eliza Byard, �but in today�s climate, any mention of sexual orientation is politically volatile, and teachers and administrators concerned about their job security will turn away from dealing with it unless there is sound direction.�
Stewart gave sponsor testimony on his bill June 7.
Last week�s testimony was given by Jennifer Miller, who heads the Ohio Board of Education�s office for health, safety and nutrition.
In her brief statement, Miller told the committee that H.B. 276 is �in alignment with the State Board of Education�s Anti-Harassment Initiative.�
That 2003 measure came under fire because of its vagueness, and because school boards are not required to follow it.
Stewart�s bill is an attempt to require some local board action.
The committee will hear additional testimony on the bill October 4, and possibly more after that. Its chair is Rep. Arlene Setzer, a Republican from Vandalia who is a retired teacher.
The other Republicans on the committee are Diana Fessler of New Carlisle, Clyde Evans of Rio Grande, Ron Hood of Ashville, James Hoops of Napoleon, Scott Oelslager of Canton, Jon Peterson of Delaware, Linda Reidelbach of Columbus, Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, John Schlichter of Washington Court House, Derrick Seaver of Minster, Mary Taylor of Uniontown, Jeff Wagner of Sycamore and Shawn Webster of Hamilton.
The committee Democrats are Kenneth Carano of Austintown, Dixie Allen of Dayton, Catherine Barrett of Cincinnati, Kathleen Chandler of Kent, George Distel of Conneaut, Jennifer Garrison of Marietta, Brian Williams of Akron, and Claudette Woodard of Cleveland Heights.
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