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City officials announce initiative to curb school bullying

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday September 3, 2008

A day after the city's 1.1 million public school students returned to the classroom, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein unveiled a new initiative designed to reduce bias-based bullying and harassment.

The regulations require school administrators to make their students and staff aware of these new standards through posters and pamphlets, to track incidents and conduct prompt investigations of complaints. They also seek to ensure "schools are safe, supportive and respectful learning environment."

Brian Ellner, senior counsel to Klein, described the announcement as historic.

"This is a strong regulation and it certainly puts us on the forefront nationally," he told EDGE. "It demonstrates a clear commitment on the part of the mayor and chancellor to eradicate bias and bullying in our schools and to protect all kids."

Bloomberg added he feels these regulations provide the city's Department of Education additional tools to further reduce the number of bias-based bullying and harassment inside the classroom. Quinn, a presumptive 2009 mayoral candidate, agreed.

"These uniform requirements will provide our students with the security of knowing that they have access to any help and support they need as the new school year begins," she said.

This announcement comes a year after the DOE, Bloomberg and Quinn announced voluntary two-day training sessions and professional workshops as part of the Respect for All initiative. One thousand middle and high school teachers and administrators opted to take part, but the larger debate over exactly how to reduce bias-based incidents in the city's public schools has spanned years.

"It demonstrates a clear commitment on the part of the mayor and chancellor to eradicate bias and bullying in our schools and to protect all kids."

The City Council and the Bloomberg administration engaged in an often contentious battle over the Dignity in All Schools Act, a bill that would have protected city students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, in 2004. The City Council overwhelmingly passed DASA, but Bloomberg vetoed it on grounds local lawmakers did not have the authority to mandate DOE policy (Both the Mayor and Klein support a version of DASA before Albany lawmakers.) Quinn and her colleagues overrode Bloomberg's veto, but DASA has yet to take effect.

LGBT activists expressed optimism over the new initiative.

"We have seen firsthand the devastating effects that bullying, harassment and bias have on young people throughout our city and beyond," Hetrick-Martin Institute executive director Thomas Krevor said. "We commend Mayor Bloomberg, City Council members and Chancellor Joel Klein for their vision and for recognizing that this important and crucial legislation will help protect all of our city's young people and will encourage life-long lessons in tolerance and respect for all."

Kevin Jennings, founder and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, further the DOE's new regulations as a renewed commitment to curb bias-related bullying and harassment inside the city's classrooms.

"[It] is a crucial step towards addressing the bullying and harassment that affects so many of the city's students, particularly those who are, or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," he said.

State Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea], a chief DASA sponsor in Albany, added he hopes the DOE's initiative will propel lawmakers to support the legislation.

"While this is a powerful first step in the right direction, we must go further," Duane said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.

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