Los Angeles Schools Ignore Anti-Bullying Mandate
The deadline for California schools to implement the state's new anti-bullying legislation came and went on July 1, but some Los Angeles schools have yet to comply with it. The bill came about following a federal investigation that determined that school administrators had been ignoring incidents of bullying -- the very thing the legislation seeks to end.
"What we have seen is that the school staff is not intervening, which is why the passing of this law was so important," said Jason Navarro, the chair for the Los Angeles chapter of the New York-based support organization GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network).
AB 9 (Seth's Law) was signed into California law last October by Gov. Jerry Brown to update regulations on protection of California school students from harassment and bullying. Yet it appears to be having a slow road to enforcement in several of the Long Beach-area school districts.
According to reports in The Huffington Post and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, although the July 1 deadline for schools to comply with the new law has passed, spokespersons from Downey, Paramount, and Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School Districts claimed to have never received notifications of the new law, and Bellflower Unified School District's superintendent declined to comment. Long Beach Unified School District reportedly put the new requirements in place on July 3.
"Failing to comply with AB 9 is unacceptable. This is an important issue and schools need to understand their obligations and responsibilities," said Stephanie Pappas, a health education consultant for schools with the California Department of Education, who expressed skepticism that districts were unaware of the mandate, stating that notices had been distributed.
Navarro, who said he has a very personal connection to the bill, spoke to EDGE about his organization's view of the new law, its implementation difficulties and the role GLSEN played in pinpointing the need for it.
"Because I'm also a high school teacher, I have a personal buy-in to these concerns," said Navarro. "Also, when I was a student, my interactions with the educational system were difficult, and I dropped out when I was a senior. That was partly due to an unsupportive school staff, where there was no LGBT visibility. That's why me and my organization are very much in favor of what Assembly Bill 9 can do."
Navarro pointed out that anti-gay policies in the school are not new in California, but the important thing about AB 9 is that it requires school personnel to actively intervene when they witness bullying. The aims of the bill are closely allied with the results of GLSEN's recently released 2011 School Climate Survey, which focuses on the experiences of LGBT high-school students across the nation.
That survey revealed that 81.9 percent of the LGBT students queried reported being verbally harassed at school, and 18.3 percent were physically harassed because of their sexual orientation. In addition, 6 in 10 students said they felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation and 4 in 10 felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
"These numbers and the reasons behind them that require school personnel to intervene is that 60 percent of LGBT students who were harassed, physically or verbally, never reported it to school staff," said Navarro. "We also found that of 36.7 percent who say they were harassed and did report it, the school staff did nothing in response."
Navarro noted that a separate California-specific version of GLSEN’s bi-annual Climate Survey is currently in progress. He also stressed that beyond attempting to protect victims of harassment and bullying, Seth’s Law holds the adults accountable and requires prominent posting of the policies at several places on the school campus. But he was not surprised that compliance with the new law was behind schedule.
"I think one of the problems is that the L.A. Unified School District is so large that any new policy takes a lot of effort and manpower," he said. "This law goes a lot further than previous regulations. It not only requires staff members to intervene, but also to post the policy -- I believe in student government meetings, staff lounges and in the offices. There are several locations on campus where this is required. Beyond that, the schools must post lists of resources to support victims of bullying."
In November, the state plans to launch a nine-month audit of all public schools to verify compliance will the new law. The anti-discriminatory law addresses enhanced student protections of their rights, including matters of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender, disability and religion. The school districts must also notify students and parents of their rights and how to advocate for them.
Will the new law be effective in the long run? Navarro said he believed the aims of the bill will be fulfilled, though it will take time and energy.
"There definitely will be bumps in the road," said Navarro. "We saw that with the Fair Education Act. Yet we see in schools that have supportive staffs that all students -- not only GLBT students -- benefit from the anti-bullying and harassment laws. They have higher academic achievement, and better emotional and psychological well-being. This bill concerns itself with every instance of bullying. We are dealing here with one of the largest school districts in the nation, so the benefits that can come out of this work will be very valuable. California has been very supportive of LGBT issues, and other states will look to L.A. as model."