Letter on Student Non-Discrimination Act
December 16, 2011
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we urge your support and cosponsorship of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S.555). This critical legislation will protect students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.
NEA believes that every student deserves a safe learning environment free from bullying and harassment. As a matter of sound education policy, no student should be subjected to bullying or harassment that interferes with the student’s ability to learn or to the safety problems that can result from bullying and harassment. This year, NEA launched a new “Bully Free: It Starts with Me” campaign to engage adults in stopping bullying whenever or wherever it occurs.
Unfortunately, far too many LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT are subjected daily to intolerable bullying, and as has been covered in the media recently, far too many of these situations are ending in the tragic suicide of promising young children. According to NEA’s 2010 Nationwide Study of Bullying: Teachers’ and Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives over half of the NEA members surveyed (62%) indicated that they had witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41 percent indicated that they had witnessed bullying once a week or more. Bullying takes many forms, with school staff reporting that verbal (59%), social/relational (50%), and physical (39%) forms were of greatest concern in their school. Members also reported that bullying based on a student’s gender (20%) and perceived sexual orientation (18%) were of concern in their school.
A student who feels unsafe due to bullying and harassment may choose to simply avoid the situation altogether, adding a loss of learning to the harms they’re already suffering. According to the 2009 National School Climate Survey, “29.1 percent of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0 percent missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.” And even when they remain in class, targeted students lose as much as half a grade point.
But as we know all too well, this isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death. We cannot turn a blind eye to the unspeakable tragedies occurring around the nation as a result of unchecked bullying. Students must be protected and must feel safe in their schools.
S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.
S. 555 deserves your consideration, including as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Director, Center for Advocacy
Director of Government Relations