For any teacher, the goal of education goes further than grades and test scores – students are so much more than that. Watching students grow, understand, challenge themselves, become more self confident, gain an awareness of who they are, and understand their place in our world are some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. But for some students, being who they are doesn’t lead to rewards and self-achievement; it leads to tears, hurtful words, and constant fear.
We all know that bullying and harassment are major problems in schools around this country. From playgrounds to pre-calculus classes, lunchrooms to locker rooms, the sad truth is that many of our LGBT youth simply do not feel safe at school. Bullies, hateful speech, and violence often lead many of our young people to fear school, an institution that once prided itself in being a safe place for all students. In too many classrooms and schoolyards, the pleas for help from LGBT teens goes unnoticed or unreported.
In 2011, the Safe Schools Improvement Act was introduced that would require all federally-funded schools to not only have a policy to protect LGBT young people from bullying and harassment, but would also require schools to enforce these policies. This bill was later tabled, but was reintroduced this past February. By mandating that schools create, use, and enforce anti-bullying and harassment policies, the Safe Schools Improvement Act aims to support and protect the victims of school bullying.
Late last month, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) was presented before the U.S. House of Representatives. While similar to the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the SNDA takes anti-bullying policies a step further. The SNDA would prohibit discrimination and harassment in our schools based on real or perceived orientation or gender identity, and would actually cut a portion of funding for those schools and programs that were found to be in violation.
Both bills not only have bipartisan support in the legislature, but also have the backing and support of numerous educational and professional organizations. While these bills are steps in the right direction, it’s appalling that legislation would need to be introduced to protect students in our schools. Education is meant to be a gateway for students – a safe pathway for them to learn, question, and develop skills that will help them succeed in life. By protecting all students, we are giving them those opportunities and allowing them to express themselves in a safe manner and in a safe place.