Bullying Is A Barrier To Education

By Nurit L. Shein

Less than a month into the new school year, at least six students nationwide have taken their own lives as a result of antigay bullying. And this isn’t just an issue for gay and lesbian kids.

Over the past year, there have been plenty of headlines about violent bullying at schools in Philadelphia and around the country. A U.S. Department of Education study found that bullying and harassment affect nearly one in every three American schoolchildren in the sixth through 10th grades. Another study estimated that 60,000 American students skip school each day because they fear being bullied.

Simply put, bullying and harassment deny students access to education. Studies confirm that victims of bullying tend to disengage from school and suffer psychologically, academically, and physically, even into adulthood. The bullies themselves don’t tend to fare much better as adults: They have higher rates of incarceration and more difficulty maintaining steady work and relationships.

My organization, Mazzoni Center, has been working with the Philadelphia School District since 1998 to create safer, more welcoming, more inclusive environments for young people, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths, who are by far the most frequently targeted for bullying.

When it comes to effective anti-bullying strategies, teachers and other school employees are hungry for this information. They see the impact of bullying on their students and are looking for ways to keep them safe. They need explicit guidance from school and district administrators.

In August, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and 10 cosponsors introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which is designed to help schools and districts prevent bullying and harassment. The legislation has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D., Calif.) and has more than 100 cosponsors from both parties. It also has broad support among educators and civil-rights organizations.

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