Bill in Texas Legislature aims to reduce bullying after Lubbock civil rights complaint
It’s estimated that a quarter of American students have been bullied for how they identify - like for their race, religion or gender.
Bills filed in both the Texas House and Senate are trying to prevent identity-based bullying through education. The bills would also create a formal process for school districts to follow when this kind of bullying happens.
“We hear extremely varying stories and accounts of how schools document these instances,” said Paige Duggins Clay, the chief legal analyst for the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit group advocating for the bills. “This is really critical, because what may start out as relatively low-level bullying, ultimately can, and in fact often does, escalate into serious civil rights concerns.”
That’s what happened in Lubbock-Cooper ISD, where Black students have reported being bullied for their race. The harassment has included racial slurs that have, at times, led to physical fights. Black students also faced cyberbullying.
Unsatisfied with how the school district handled the issue, parents filed a federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Education last year.
This situation, and others across the state, informed the filed bills that seek to standardize a school district’s response to reports of bullying.
The proposed framework would require district staff to report bullying to an appropriate administrator. Then, parents of both the student engaged in bullying and the one being bullied would be notified. Students and families would be offered resources as the district conducts an investigation. The proposal also states that the bullied victim should not face disciplinary action for engaging in self-defense.
The bills are supported by the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
“With incidents of bullying, harassment and hate crimes on the rise in Texas, it is time to provide our schools and educators with the necessary tools needed to keep our students and schools safe,” Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Fort Bend, said in a statement. ”Our schools need to be equipped with clear guidelines on how to address, document and investigate identity-based bullying reports.”
Allegations of in-school racist bullying have come from across the state. A recent report by the Charles Butt Foundation found that a majority of parents of color think students face a risk of discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.
Education has been a contentious topic in recent legislative sessions led by conservative efforts. In 2021, the focus was on how race-related subjects are taught in school. This year, Senate Bill 8 bars lessons, programs, or guidance on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Still, Duggins Clay said this is a student safety issue that should not be partisan.
“We think it's really critical that policymakers stand up and say that this is not acceptable,” she said. “Every kid deserves to feel safe and supported in school, regardless of who they are, what their ancestry is or what they look like.”
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