Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Washington State Legislature passes two bills on Civil Rights in Schools and Anti-bullying

The Washington State Legislature has passed two bills that will be of interest to readers concerned with the rights and protections of our students. We would be interested in learning about actions taking place in other states.

The Safe Schools Coalition has provided the following analysis of the bills and has permitted us to post it to our blog for our readers.

The bills are:
(1) HB 3026 -- civil rights in schools
(2) HB 2801 -- bullying bill

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(1) HB 3026 -- civil rights in schools

From the Safe Schools Coalition’s Law & Policy Work Group Co-Chairs Jennifer Allen and Lonnie Johns-Brown:

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 3026 was passed by the Senate as the very last bill before the cut-off. Both of the harmful amendments to the bill were defeated, and the bill passed on a vote of 30-18.

Thank you Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos for serving as the bill's prime sponsor and providing leadership and thank you to the communities of color that have championed the bill from its birth.

Background

Since 2006, Washington State law has prohibited discrimination in employment (which applies to teachers) and public accommodations (which applies to students) on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, and HIV status (as well as race, creed, religion, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, and disability). Individuals could file discrimination complaints with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. But there was no state agency with authority, short of a specific claim of discrimination, to monitor or enforce the law.

HB 3026: What it does

In a nutshell, it gives the law teeth with respect to schools.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 3026 will establish a new chapter in the Common School Code of Washington State that prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, religion, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation including gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. The bill will authorize the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to make rules and regulations to eliminate discrimination and – this is the crucial piece -- to monitor local school district compliance with the anti-discrimination policies.

Under current law, the protected classes identified in E2SHB 3026 are required to file complaints with the Washington State Human Rights Commission or file a civil suit in order to seek relief from actual or perceived discrimination. This legislation will enable the OSPI to help preclude litigation against school districts through compliance monitoring and dispute resolution.

What needs to happen next

The bill's costs need to be included in the budget … still being negotiated.

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(2) HB 2801 -- bullying bill

Thank you to Equal Rights Washington for this summary:

It’s a victory for everyone in Washington State, especially students, and a milestone in how far society has come in their understanding of LGBT Washingtonians.

Yesterday the Washington State Senate passed HB 2801, An act relating to anti-harassment strategies in public schools. What made this vote so impressive was that it was 48-0 in the State Senate. Earlier in the session the bill passed the State House 97-0.

Background


In 2002 the Washington State legislature passed an anti-bullying law. At the time the bill that was meant to protect ALL students from bullying was controversial because it included sexual orientation. The anti-bullying law required schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that covered, at a minimum, all the classes contained in Washington State’s hate crimes law and this included sexual orientation. In 2009 the definition of sexual orientation was amended to include gender identity and expression.

In 2007 the scope of the anti-bullying law was expanded to include electronic acts, and the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) was directed to develop a model policy and sample materials prohibiting acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying conducted via electronic means by a student while on school grounds and during the school day.

Meanwhile, the legislature commissioned a report to study the effectiveness of the State’s anti-bullying law. The Report was released in late 2008 and found that bullying in Washington Schools had not diminished. New legislation was needed.

You can read the full report here:

http://equalrightswashington.org/pdfs/Bullying%20in%20Washington%20Schools_electronic%20version_FINAL.pdf

Representative Marko Liias who serves on the education committee immediately responded to the report and introduced legislation in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. Among the challenges facing the legislature was how to address the persistent problem of bullying in the context of the economic crisis. HB 2801 is an important step in reducing bullying in our schools and reflects the legislature’s ability to address important issues even during the economic downturn.

HB 2801: What it does

The new law begins with an assessment of the current situation and a strong desire to improve the situation.

“The legislature finds that despite a recognized law prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students in public schools and despite widespread adoption of antiharassment policies by school districts, harassment of students continues and has not declined since the law was enacted. Furthermore, students and parents continue to seek assistance against harassment, and schools need to disseminate more widely their antiharassment policies and procedures. The legislature intends to expand the tools, information, and strategies that can be used to combat harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students, and increase awareness of the need for respectful learning communities in all public schools.”

The law that will now go to Governor Gregoire to be signed into law includes the following provisions:

• By august 1, 2011 each school district must adopt or amend its anti-harassment policy and procedures to at a minimum incorporate the revised model policy that will be drafted by the superintendent of public instruction, in consultation with representatives of parents, school personnel, the office of the education ombudsman, the Washington state school directors' association, and other interested parties.

• Each school district shall designate one person in the district as the primary contact regarding the antiharassment, intimidation, or bullying policy. The primary contact shall receive copies of all formal and informal complaints, have responsibility for assuring the implementation of the policy and procedure, and serve as primary contact on the policy and procedures between the school district, the office of the education ombudsman, and the office of the superintendent of public instruction.

• The superintendent of public instruction shall publish on its web site, with a link to the safety center web page, the revised and updated model harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention policy and procedure, along with training and instructional materials on the components that shall be included in any district policy and procedure.

• The superintendent shall adopt rules regarding school districts' communication of the policy and procedure to parents, students, employees, and volunteers.

• Each school district shall by August 15, 2011, provide to the superintendent of public instruction a brief summary of its policies, procedures, programs, partnerships, vendors, and instructional and training materials to be posted on the school safety center web site, and shall also provide the superintendent with a link to the school district's web site for further information. The district's primary contact for bullying and harassment issues shall annually by August 15th verify posted information and links and notify the school safety center of any updates or changes.

• The office of the education ombudsman shall serve as the lead agency to provide resources and tools to parents and families about public school antiharassment policies and strategies."

To be certain much work remains to be done to combat bullying in Washington Public Schools but HB 2801 is an important step forward. A key finding of the 2008 report was that anti-bullying programs need to be funded. When the economic crisis lessens we will need to return to address the budgetary needs of anti-bullying programs. Happily Washington State has a strong Safe Schools Coalition that will continue to work with the legislature to make sure that Washington State Law reflects best practices in combating bullying in schools. The Safe Schools Coalition website is an important resource for Parents, Educators and students alike.

Today let us celebrate the leadership of Representative Marko Liias who championed this legislation, the commitment of the legislature to ensuring that every student enjoys a safe learning environment and the ongoing work of the Safe Schools Coalition.

Joshua A. Friedes
Advocacy Director
Equal Rights Washington

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