Guest Blogger

No Student Should Be Afraid To Go To School

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 30, 2013 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: bullying, harassment, SNDA, Student Non-Discrimination Act, suicide

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Lara S. Kaufmann, NWLC Senior Counsel and Director for Education Policy for At-Risk Students, engages in litigation, advocacy, and public education that improves educational outcomes for at-risk girls, including pregnant students and students who experience sexual harassment and violence. Lara co-authored the Center's 2012 report, A Pregnancy Test for Schools: The Impact of Education Laws on Pregnant and Parenting Students and its 2009 report, Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation.

gay_bullying.jpgNews reports of students who commit suicide in the wake of malicious bullying and harassment have become almost routine in America. Pervasive harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students thrives in every part of the country. The statistics are alarming: according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey, eight in ten LGBT students have faced bullying at school, and they are about three times more likely than their peers to have missed school in the past month because of safety concerns.

Even in elementary school, LGBT students are four times more likely than their peers to stay home from school because they fear for their safety. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, LGBT students are more than twice as likely as their peers to attempt suicide.

The Center hears of students who are frightened to walk into school because they are bullied and ostracized by classmates every day in classrooms, gyms and school parking lots. Others talk about vicious lies that go viral--out of view of teachers and hall monitors. They describe not being able to concentrate during classes and steering clear of all extracurricular activities.

Many never tell their parents or teachers what's going on but choose to suffer silently out of fear of retaliation if they speak up; others report it--but either nothing changes or the harassment escalates. Some feel completely alone and become so desperate that they take their own lives.

That's why we need to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination against K-12 public school students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our nation's civil rights laws protect students from discrimination and harassment based on their sex, race, and disability status, but there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBT students. Only sixteen states prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, despite the fact that bullying and harassment of LGBT students thrives everywhere.

SNDA would protect not only LGBT students, but also students who are perceived as LGBT or associated with LGBT persons. Consider this: 42% of children with LGBT parents reported being harassed at school because they have LGBT parents, yet only six states prohibit bullying against students for their association with other LGBT people.

bigstock-Bullying-13672772.jpgSNDA would also prohibit retaliation against anyone for reporting discrimination or speaking up on behalf of a student bullied or harassed because of his or her LGBT status. With SNDA's protections in place, schools would have a clear responsibility to provide a safe environment for all students.

Ending discrimination in public schools should be a bipartisan issue; it's something that all Americans should support given our shared values of justice and fairness. It's time for members of Congress--on both sides of the aisle--to do the right thing and protect America's children. No student should be afraid to go to school because of who he or she is.

In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, let's finally make SNDA a reality. Thousands of vulnerable students are counting on it.

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