Thursday the Washington State Senate passed HB 2801, An act relating to anti-harassment strategies in public schools. The vote was 48-0 in the State Senate and 97-0 in the State House. Impressive.
Although an anti-bullying law was passed in Washington State in 2002, a report released in 2008 showed that bullying hadn’t abated. Further legislation was needed. Joshua Friedes, the new Executive Director for Equal Rights Washington (woot!) explains:
In 2002 the Washington State legislature passed an anti-bullying law. At the time the bill that was meant to protect ALL students from bullying was controversial because it included sexual orientation. The anti-bullying law required schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that covered, at a minimum, all the classes contained in Washington State’s hate crimes law and this included sexual orientation. In 2009 the definition of sexual orientation was amended to include gender identity and expression.
In 2007 the scope of the anti-bullying law was expanded to include electronic acts, and the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) was directed to develop a model policy and sample materials prohibiting acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying conducted via electronic means by a student while on school grounds and during the school day.
Meanwhile, the legislature commissioned a report to study the effectiveness of the State’s anti-bullying law. The Report was released in late 2008 and found that bullying in Washington Schools had not diminished. New legislation was needed.
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You can read the full report here.
Representative Marko Liias who serves on the education committee immediately responded to the report and introduced legislation in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. Among the challenges facing the legislature was how to address the persistent problem of bullying in the context of the economic crisis. HB 2801 is an important step in reducing bullying in our schools and reflects the legislature’s ability to address important issues even during the economic downturn.
HB 2801: What it does
The new law begins with an assessment of the current situation and a strong desire to improve the situation.
“The legislature finds that despite a recognized law prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students in public schools and despite widespread adoption of antiharassment policies by school districts, harassment of students continues and has not declined since the law was enacted. Furthermore, students and parents continue to seek assistance against harassment, and schools need to disseminate more widely their antiharassment policies and procedures. The legislature intends to expand the tools, information, and strategies that can be used to combat harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students, and increase awareness of the need for respectful learning communities in all public schools.”
The law that will now go to Governor Gregoire to be signed into law includes the following provisions:
By august 1, 2011 each school district must adopt or amend its anti-harrasment policy and procedures to at a minimum incorporate the revised model policy that will be drafted by the superintendent of public instruction, in consultation with representatives of parents, school personnel, the office of the education ombudsman, the Washington state school directors’ association, and other interested parties.
Each school district shall designate one person in the district as the primary contact regarding the antiharassment, intimidation, or bullying policy. The primary contact shall receive copies of all formal and informal complaints, have responsibility for assuring the implementation of the policy and procedure, and serve as primary contact on the policy and procedures between the school district, the office of the education ombudsman, and the office of the superintendent of public instruction.
The superintendent of public instruction shall publish on its web site, with a link to the safety center web page, the revised and updated model harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention policy and procedure, along with training and instructional materials on the components that shall be included in any district policy and procedure.
The superintendent shall adopt rules regarding school districts’ communication of the policy and procedure to parents, students, employees, and volunteers.
Each school district shall by August 15, 2011, provide to the superintendent of public instruction a brief summary of its policies, procedures, programs, partnerships, vendors, and instructional and training materials to be posted on the school safety center web site, and shall also provide the superintendent with a link to the school district’s web site for further information. The district’s primary contact for bullying and harassment issues shall annually by August 15th verify posted information and links and notify the school safety center of any updates or changes.
The office of the education ombudsman shall serve as the lead agency to provide resources and tools to parents and families about public school antiharassment policies and strategies.”
To be certain much work remains to be done to combat bullying in Washington Public Schools but HB 2801 is an important step forward. A key finding of the 2008 report was that anti-bullying programs need to be funded. When the economic crisis lessons we will need to return to address the budgetary needs of anti-bullying programs. Happily Washington State has a strong Safe Schools Coalition that will continue to work with the legislature to make sure that Washington State Law reflects best practices in combating bullying in schools. The Safe Schools Coalition website is an important resource for Parents, Educators and students alike.
Today let us celebrate the leadership of Representative Marko Liias who championed this legislation, the commitment of the legislature to ensuring that every student enjoys a safe learning environment and the ongoing work of the Safe Schools Coalition.
Joshua A. Friedes
Equal Rights Washington