A bill – authored by Senator Ricardo Lara and co-sponsored by Equality California and GSA Network – that would improve the handling of bullying and discrimination incidents in public schools, has passed the Senate Education Committee by a bipartisan vote of 7-0-2.
The bill, SB 840, addresses shortfalls in existing school safety and nondiscrimination law enforcement and implementation in California schools. The legislation was prompted by the findings of the School Safety and Nondiscrimination Laws Audit released in 2013, which reported that school bullying prevention efforts are falling short.
“While California has been at the forefront in adopting legislation to protect our youth from bullying and harassment, including Seth’s Law in 2011, last year’s audit showed that compliance with the law is falling short,” said John O’Connor, executive director of EQCA. “The bipartisan support that this bill received yesterday reaffirms the notion that every student should feel safe at school and have the opportunity to succeed.”
“No student should fear going to school because of bullying,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “We have a responsibility to provide school officials with the tools they need to appropriately protect and support our students and ensure academic success.”
Bullying and harassment in schools is occurring at alarming rates in California. While students are bullied for a variety of reasons, data has shown nearly 200,000 students in California schools are harassed because of sexual orientation. These statistics translate to multiple negative consequences for students, including higher risk for poor academic performance, depression, suicide and substance abuse. The cumulative cost to school districts is an estimated minimum of $39.9 million each year due to school absences when students feel unsafe to attend school for fear of being bullied.
In 2012, EQCA and GSA Network joined then Assemblymembers Ricardo Lara and Betsy Butler to request an audit by the State Auditor that reviewed current state laws on the issue and recommended improvements to increase prevention. The report was released in 2013 and found that while a majority of districts and schools have implemented some nondiscrimination policies, many lacked adequate enforcement measures. Additionally, the audit revealed that California law was not fully aligned with federal Department of Education nondiscrimination policy.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. For more than a decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully pass 96 pieces of pro-equality legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org