Al Franken asked testifiers at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee how the nation’s public education system can address bullying targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. And the Minnesota senator announced he’ll be introducing a bill to address the issue of bullying that targets LGBT students. It’s the second time in recent weeks that Senator Franken has spoken out out on this issue.
“There’s something very specific that has been on my mind… LGBT youth being bullied,” Franken told a panel of education experts. “Right now we have laws that prohibit bullying based on pretty much everything, but not on gender identity and gay and lesbian kids. And the evidence is that gay kids are bullied a lot and that their achievement goes down. There’s a lot of absenteeism and even suicide.”
He asked the panel, “What is the best way to create a positive behavioral environment?”
George Sugai, a professor of special education at the University of Connecticut, said the current system needs to change. “Our basic response in general to bullying has been a reactive management strategy, zero tolerance, punish the kids, create an environment of control,” he said. “And the literature suggests that if that’s your response, it’s going to be ineffective in supporting those kids or any kids inside the school.”
He said that teaching social skills will greatly improve the environment both for kids at risk for bullying and those at risk for becoming bullies.
Clare Struck, a counselor at Price Lab School in Cedar Falls, Iowa, noted that that state has passed anti-bullying measures guiding school districts on the issue of bullying against LGBT students (the Minnesota Legislature has passed a similar law, but Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the it in 2009.)
“You are right on, Sen. Franken. That is one of the harshest, worst kind of harassment that happens in schools around the country,” she said.
Read the full Minnesota Independent story here.
See Senator Franken's exchange with education experts below: