BILLS SEEKING TO MAKE SCHOOLS SAFER FOR LEARNING, SUPPORT PRINCIPLES OF EQUALITY MOVE FORWARD
Legislation Promotes a Healthier Learning Environment in California Schools; the Pete Knight Act, Named for a Foe of Equality, Fails in Committee Hearing
Sacramento, CA – Two bills that would promote a safer and healthier environment in California schools advanced in the State Assembly on Wednesday, demonstrating a commitment by legislators in California to the principles of equality and fairness.
The Safe Place to Learn Act (Levine, D-Van Nuys), a bill that would require school districts and the Department of Education to comply with California’s existing laws regarding anti-discrimination in schools, earned a 7-2 vote in the Assembly Education Committee. Sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), a statewide advocacy organization, Assembly Bill 606 puts public school officials in California on notice that protections against harassment are not surrendered when individuals step onto school property.
“California has led the nation in passing legislation that prohibits harassment and discrimination of LGBT students,” stated Geoffrey Kors, EQCA Executive Director. “This bill will ensure and enforce existing protections so that all students can learn and grow in a safe environment.”
AB 606 provides clarification and guidance to schools districts to ensure that provisions of an earlier bill, the California Student Safety and Violence Act of 2000 (AB 537), are fully and properly implemented. The bill will clarify the minimum steps that a school district must take to ensure the safety of all students. Current standards require school districts to establish and publicize a non-discrimination policy that includes actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, among other steps that must be taken. Failure to comply with these requirements places funding in jeopardy for school districts.
“Many schools are failing to provide a safe place to learn for our children,” said Assemblymember Lloyd E. Levine, author of AB 606. “Students often suffer silently, without allies, their trust and security betrayed by peers or even the adults they are taught to look up to. We simply have to do better.”
“I don’t feel safe at my school,” said Yvonne Neis, a senior at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento whose locker was defaced when someone carved the word “FAG” on it. According to Ms. Neis, no action was taken as a result of this incident. “These incidents, among many others, have made me uncomfortable, not cared for and alone, and they have had an effect on my school work. AB 606 would not only provide needed support and protection for sexual minorities, [it would] make students, staff and parents more aware that the school environment should be safe for everyone.”
According to the 2001-02 California Healthy Kids Survey, each year more than 200,000 middle school and high school students are harassed on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, representing 7.8 percent of the school student population. Students who experience this type of harassment are three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe, twice as likely to report depression and suicidal thoughts and plans, and are more likely to have low grades, be victims of violence or use illegal substances.
A survey conducted by the California Safe Schools Coalition found the 60 percent of schools districts are not in compliance with state requirements to establish policies preventing discrimination and harassment based on gender identity, appearance or behavior. The lack of compliance with the law leaves “thousands of LGBT students vulnerable to harassment and discrimination,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network in San Francisco. “AB 606 is a critical step in ensuring that all students are safe to learn at every school in California.”
Next week, AB 606 is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
AB 1056 (lead author Assemblymember Judy Chu, D-Sacramento), a bill that would require the State Board of Education to develop a pilot project integrating intergroup relations and tolerance curriculum into the English and Social Science framework, also advanced in the Assembly, receiving a 9-2 vote in the Assembly Education Committee. AB 1056 would direct the Board of Education to consult with human relations commissions and individuals and groups that are protected by California’s hate crimes legislation.
A bill titled the William J. “Pete” Knight Memorial Act (AB 1218, Wyland, R-Vista) failed by a vote of 4-6 to achieve passage in its hearing before the Assembly Education Committee, marking the end of the road for this legislation. Named for a state senator who opposed the key focus of the pledge -- liberty and justice for all -- this bill was opposed by EQCA unless it had been amended to remove the reference to Knight. The bill would have required that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited daily at elementary and secondary schools.
Founded in 1998, Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure the dignity, safety, equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Equality California is one of the largest and fastest growing statewide LGBT organizations in the country. We can be contacted through our website at www.eqca.org.
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