Resident commissioner co-sponsors anti-bullying legislation

By John McPhaul

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Jenniffer González Colón (R-P.R.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) have reintroduced a measure against harassment (bullying) of LGBTTQ students called the State Task Force Opportunity Program (STOP) Bullying Act.

The measure seeks to incentivize the establishment of anti-bullying task forces across the states to study, address and reduce bullying in schools. It specifically addresses the harassment of LGBTTQ students and is endorsed by GLSEN, an educational organization based in New York that works to end discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and promote LGBTTQ cultural inclusion and awareness in schools from preschool to 12th grade.

“As speaker of the House of Representatives in Puerto Rico, I worked on legislation to promote a safe educational environment, free from bullying, and now from Congress I am promoting this initiative,” González Colón said late last week.

“The STOP Bullying Act will establish a federal grant program through the Department of Education that will provide financial assistance to states to establish anti-bullying and anti-harassment task forces,” the resident commissioner said. “This program will help create safe environments that foster the education of our children to meet their needs. I thank all my colleagues who are part of this effort.”

Krishnamoorthi said “[s]chools should be places of learning and growth, but that is impossible when children do not feel safe.”

“I have co-sponsored the STOP Bullying Law because bullying in schools continues to be a problem that threatens the education and well-being of our children,” he said. “The creation of task forces against bullying is a proven answer to address these problems and the new task forces established by our legislation will help foster acceptance of all students regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender, identity and religion.”

Specifically, the STOP Bullying Act:

* Establishes a federal grant program through financial assistance to states or commonwealths to establish anti-bullying task forces.

* Each task force will convene educators and community leaders to evaluate and strengthen prevention efforts in schools.

* The chair of the task force will be appointed by the jurisidiction’s director of education or “chief education officer.”

* The task force must be composed of at least one of each of the following: elementary, middle, or high school teachers, school administrators, parents, students, guidance counselors, child psychologists, school psychologists, attorneys, representatives, and professionals from organizations that specialize in support services for students who identify as LGBTTQ+, representatives from the jurisdiction’s education agency focused on school improvement.

* Each task force should coordinate its activities with other boards and commissions within the state or commonwealth to ensure consistency and positive outcomes for students.

* Each task force shall submit a final report to the chief education officer of the state or commonwealth and the federal secretary of education with the task force’s findings and conclusions, legislative recommendations, and best practices to reduce bullying and educate parents and school personnel.

According to the representatives, the bill “will empower and provide the structure that [jurisdictions] need to create effective and long-lasting anti-bullying policies to address each of the unique environments surrounding bullying on school grounds.”

The STOP Bullying Act is based on models from 13 states and the District of Columbia that have convened anti-bullying and harassment task forces to evaluate and strengthen bullying prevention programs. The STOP Bullying Act encourages the creation of an anti-bullying task force in each state or commonwealth, which makes schools safer for all children.

A spokesperson for GLSEN noted that “we continue to learn how statewide commissions or task forces can provide long-term benefits, allowing states flexibility to work on the specific needs of their school districts.”

“We applaud Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s leadership in providing communities with the resources they need to make schools safer for all students, particularly LGBTTQ+ students who are transgender, non-binary, of color, indigenous, and people with disabilities,” said GLSEN Deputy Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers.

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