In addition to promoting changes to school discipline policies and requiring reporting about teen pregnancy rates in the latest proposal to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the bill would protect students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender from bullying at school.
The proposal from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, incorporates language from Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken’s Student Nondiscrimination Act. (Read about how academic requirements and report cards for schools would work in my colleague Alyson Klein’s post on the Politics K-12 blog.)
Specifically, the bill—which has no Republican co-sponsors—says that students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, are likely to experience bullying, harassment, intimidation, or violence at school, despite protection under existing federal civil rights laws. (This begins on page 694 if you want to see for yourself.)
The bill would provide explicit protection for these students. (It’s when these students are specifically protected in policy that the policy is most effective, advocates have told me during previous attempts by Franken to get some traction on the measure.)
Students could sue if harassment isn’t addressed by districts and schools, which could also lose federal money for failing to protect students.
“No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe,” Franken said in a press release. “Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability, and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school.”
School security, safety spending
Another provision of the proposal that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog: Schools couldn’t spend federal money that comes from the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students state grants on school resource officers or any other school security staff, metal detectors, security cameras, drug-testing programs, or developing zero-tolerance discipline policies. (The one exception is the provision in the Gun-Free Schools Act that requires expulsions of students who bring firearms to school.)
Since the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, there has been a push for more armed school police officers and other security measures in some places, a shift that has disappointed some civil rights and education groups, who worry about effects on school climate and possible fueling of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
This kind of spending is explicitly allowed by the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Read the entire bill.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.