The following post appears courtesy of the Civil Rights Division.
This October, in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, communities across the country have come together to increase awareness about bullying prevention. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stands firmly behind these efforts, and will continue to make the most of our resources and authority to help stop bullying in schools. We will continue to work to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students.
Bullying is not a rite of passage; the impact of bullying extends far beyond the schoolhouse doors. Bullying can lead to violence, anxiety, depression and even suicide. School bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants, while victims of bullying are more likely to drop out of school, struggle in class, engage in illegal drug use or become involved in the criminal justice system. It is simply unacceptable, moreover, that any child should fear going to school because of harassment.
The Civil Rights Division is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that protect young people who are targeted because of their race, national origin, religion, sex or disability. This includes students who are harassed because they do not conform to gender norms of how a boy or girl is “supposed to” act. We hold school systems accountable when they fail to take the proper steps to address harassment within their schools.
In response to incidents of harassment, the division investigates written complaints, helps to amend school policies and requires school districts to implement a host of other remedies, including providing training to teachers and administrators on how to better promote positive school climates and rid their schools of harassment. In the past few years, we have reached comprehensive and groundbreaking settlement agreements with numerous school districts across the country, including in Philadelphia, where Asian students were regularly harassed at a local high school, and in Mohawk County, N.Y., where a gay teen was physically and verbally abused for failing to conform to gender stereotypes.
We also reached an agreement with the school district in Anoka-Hennepin, Minn. The school district had failed to adequately address the harassment of students who did not conform to gender stereotypes in their schools. But students in Anoka-Hennepin were brave and spoke out. They brought the problems they were facing to the Civil Rights Division, and we worked with the school district to reach a blueprint for sustainable reform that we hope will be a model for schools across the nation.
In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood Initiative to address the problem of children’s exposure to violence and to promote evidence-based practices. As part of the Defending Childhood Initiative, the department provided grants to eight jurisdictions to develop strategic plans for comprehensive community-based anti-violence efforts, including anti-bullying programs. In Boston, Mass., for example, we are supporting the implementation of state-wide bullying intervention and prevention legislation.
The Obama Administration has made clear that bullying prevention is an issue of national priority. Last year, the White House organized a summit on bullying and harassment in schools. Recently, the White House also announced its support for both the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. These bills would help ensure that school environments are free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.
Ending bullying is a common mission rooted in common experience. Many of us can recall being bullied during childhood, or have seen the effects of bullying on loved ones. National Bullying Prevention Month is a reminder that bullying in schools remains a serious and unacceptable problem. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce the nation’s civil rights laws to support the common goal to end bullying and harassment. The work of our Civil Rights Division, as well as of our nationwide partners on this issue, is absolutely crucial to protect the safety and wellbeing of our students.
Students, teachers, administrators, advocates and community members can find extensive resources to help in the fight against bullying at stopbullying.gov