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Federal Anti-Bullying Legislation to Be Reintroduced—Again

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Will the current Congress be any more accepting of federal anti-bullying legislation?

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is once again pushing for a federal law that would, among other things:

  • Require schools and districts that receive federal funding to adopt codes of conduct banning bullying and harassment—specifically prohibiting harassment on the basis of a student's actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion;

  • Require states to collect information on bullying and harassment and report it to the U.S.Department of Education;and,

  • Require states to make this information readily available to the public.

This week, Casey visited schools in his home state to tout the legislation, including Harding Middle School in Philadelphia, where he was joined by representatives of the Cartoon Network. The network encourages kids to take a pledge that says they'll speak up if they see something that seems like it's bullying. And the network is sending out flags like the one Casey helped hoist over Harding Middle that carry the campaign logo. (Get one for your school here.)

On Thursday, Casey said next week he will officially introduce the bill—which would make at least his third attempt to get the rest of Congress on board—with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and other cosponsors. (This is a previous version of the bill.)

Bullying and harassment affect millions of students every year," Casey said in a statement. "I am re-introducing the Safe Schools Improvement Act to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence. This bill is a crucial step towards ensuring that no child is afraid to go to school for fear of bullying."

A recent study by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that bullying, whether it's something physical or social aggression such as spreading rumors, makes students seem cooler to their middle school classmates and pushes them up a rung on the social status ladder.

The UCLA psychologists studied about 1,900 students from 99 classes at 11 Los Angeles middle schools. During three separate surveys, students were asked to name their coolest classmates. The answer? Peers who "start fights or push other kids around" and who "spread nasty rumors about other kids."

So preventive measures have to be very specific, said Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology and lead author of the study, in a statement.

"A simple message, such as 'Bullying is not tolerated,' is not likely to be very effective," Juvonen said, if bullying often increases social status and respect. And bystanders—as the Cartoon Network pledge emphasizes—can play a critical role in encouraging or discouraging bullying.

The rumors that middle school students spread often involve sexuality—saying a student is gay or sexually promiscuous—and family insults, Juvonen said.

Some research has found that policies that outline specific groups of students who should be protected from harassment are the most effective. Casey's bill has support from organizations including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association; the American Association of University Women; the Asian American Justice Center; the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; the Human Rights Campaign; and the National Council of La Raza.

While a previous iteration of the bill has won the support of the White House, the delineation of specific groups of students who are protected has been a sticking point for Casey's fellow senators, and it may be no easier to get passed now.

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