Measure Passed to Enforce Harassment Laws in Calfornia Schools

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Assembly Education Committee on April 18 passed a measure that would better enforce California’s safe school laws to keep harassment and bullying out of the classroom. Lawmakers passed the Safe Place to Learn Act by a 7-3 vote.

AB 394, authored by Assemblymember Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, clarifies the minimum steps school districts must take to protect students, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Co-sponsored by Equality California and Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality, the bill also requires the state to monitor school compliance with an existing anti-bias law, the California Student Safety and Violence Protection Act of 2000, which banned all forms of unlawful discrimination in schools.

“Despite state laws designed to protect them, LGBT youth continue to feel unsafe at school,” says EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “We want all students to thrive at school and achieve academic success, which is difficult, if not impossible, under the threat of harassment and violence. AB 394 will make sure every school in California is working toward the goal of keeping every student healthy and safe.”

Existing state law protects students from bias based on their gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, nationality, religion and disability. However, recent research indicates that students continue to face discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity.

“Students, teachers, parents and researchers across California acknowledge that harassment continues to be a problem in our schools,” says Assemblymember Levine. “By strengthening and clarifying current law, we will create an improved statewide response to incidents of bias and discrimination against youth, providing students the respect and protection we promised them years ago.”

Bias-related harassment continues to be a pervasive problem in California schools. About 30 percent of all 7th, 9th and 11th graders have experienced harassment due to their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability, according to the 2004-05 California Student Survey. More than 90 percent of California youth also hear negative comments based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to a 2004 report issued by the California Safe Schools Coalition and the 4-H Center for Youth Development at UC-Davis.

“AB 394 promotes an atmosphere of respect for students of all backgrounds by monitoring schools to ensure they adopt and publicize antidiscrimination and harassment policies,” says Angela Chan, an attorney for the Juvenile Justice Project in the Asian Law Caucus.

Each year, the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco receives numerous complaints of hate-based violence and harassment in schools, particularly targeted at Asian Pacific American youth. The Caucus surveyed 75 school districts across the state last month and found that one-third of them did not have antidiscrimination policies, which existing law requires.

Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians.

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An Equality California press release.

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