FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 25, 2006
First Ever Study of California School Districts' Non-Discrimination Policies Shows Some Progress, But More Action Needed
Study Reveals that 60% of School Districts are in Direct Violation of California Law Because They Do Not Have Policies that Prevent Harassment Based on Gender Identity, Appearance or Behavior
Although California school districts are making progress by passing inclusive non-discrimination policies, there are far too many school districts still not in compliance with California law, according to the first in a series of Safe Schools Research Briefs that the California Safe Schools Coalition is releasing in 2006. The District Policies and Trainings Research Brief reveals that 94 percent of school districts report having a policy specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, only 40 percent of districts have policies that prohibit harassment based on gender identity, appearance or behavior. This means that 60 percent of school districts are in direct violation of California law.
"Every student deserves to learn in an environment that helps them reach their full potential," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a member organization of the California Safe Schools Coalition (CSSC). "We are proud to be a part of the coalition that produced this groundbreaking Research Brief highlighting school districts still need to take specific proactive steps to reduce harassment and increase safety for all students."
The CSSC is a statewide network of experts and advocates working to implement the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act, which became law on January 1, 2000. The District Policies and Trainings Research Brief was designed to improve understanding of successes and challenges in local efforts to create safe schools. The CSSC conducted the survey, which received responses from 36 percent of the school districts in the state, representing 3,478,000 students or 56 percent of the students in California schools. Of the school districts surveyed the vast majority report that they have passed policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender, and some districts are training staff. Unfortunately, the Research Brief shows that while there has been progress in school districts creating policy, there is a great deal of work to be done to implement policies and, therefore, ensure the safety of all students.
"It's unacceptable that school districts are still not in compliance with a law that has been on the books for six years that prohibits all harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Eric Manke, Director of the California Safe Schools Coalition. "Schools need to assure that every teacher and administrator is trained to step in and stop harassment, and the state needs to play a more active role, holding school districts accountable to the law."
Despite a non-discrimination law, the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, that took effect more than six years ago, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain persistent and pervasive in California schools. School non-discrimination policies have been shown to promote school safety, and have been shown to be a key strategy to prevent negative health and academic outcomes for youth. However, according to the Research Brief, a majority of school districts do not require trainings on how to address discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation for their elementary, middle or high school teachers. For example, only 54 percent of districts require that all of their counselors receive such training. Also, most of the time parents and students are passively notified about school safety policies: notified by student handbook only, while only 11 percent of school districts notified parents and 23 percent notified students by a training, meeting or assembly. The State requires that districts inform students and parents of the district's non-discrimination policy and about how to file a complaint about discrimination.
"Research consistently shows that harassment at school and feeling unsafe at school are linked to significant health risks for youth, as well as poor school performance," said Stephen Russell, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development at the University of Arizona. "We know that school policies make a difference; students who know about school safety policies feel safer. This new research documents the importance of having district policies in place, and of training for teachers and school staff in the skills they need to make schools safer."
Recent legislation, the Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 606), authored by Assembly Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and sponsored by Equality California, provides clarification and guidance to school districts and the Department of Education regarding what steps should be taken to ensure compliance with the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. The proposed Safe Place to Learn Act will clarify the necessary steps that school districts and the Department of Education must take to ensure the safety of all their students. AB 606 is expected to reach the Assembly Floor this week.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
The California Safe Schools Coalition is a statewide network of experts and advocates working to implement the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act, which became law on January 1, 2000. Members include the American Civil Liberties Union; Anti-Defamation League; California Teachers Association; Equality California; Gay-Straight Alliance Network; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; National Center for Lesbian Rights; Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays; The Respect For All Project; and the Transgender Law Center. Learn more at http://www.casafeschools.org/.