FL House Passes Statewide Safe Schools Bill
All Forms of Bullying are Prohibited
(Tallahassee) By a unanimous vote, the Florida House of Representatives today passed a statewide Safe Schools bill that, bill sponsors say, will prohibit all forms of harassment including bullying targeted at students based on their race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical appearance, disability, and religion.
Reps. Dan Gelber, Jack Seiler, and a bi-partisan coalition brought forward an amendment that would have expanded the examples of harassment included in the bill to encompass all of the characteristics listed in Florida's hate crimes statute. The amendment failed only after assurances from sponsors that all of these groups were already protected.
Legislators zeroed in on the issue of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from harassment with the sponsor and supporters repeatedly insisting that anti-gay bullying would be outlawed by this bill.
Rep. Bogdanoff (R-Broward) and Rep. Thompson (R-Lee), prime sponsors of the bill, both stressed that protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity were already covered in the bill. "No member of this legislature believes a child should be bullied because of their sexual orientation,” Bogdanoff said.
Equality Florida and the Florida Safe Schools Coalition noted the importance of promises to protect all students but vowed to continue to push for more specific language. "We continue to believe that the strongest bill would include a complete listing of all of the forms of harassment we know plague our schools" said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, "but we take heart in the fact that legislators have promised repeatedly that schools must address all forms of bulling, including anti-gay attacks, or they will be breaking the law.”
The bill must now pass the Florida Senate where a similar amendment is likely to be brought forward.
At least 10 other states have passed fully inclusive anti-bullying laws that include categories, which experts say are essential to ensure schools don’t shy away from intervening.
Representative Thompson, the bill’s lead sponsor, put school districts on notice during the floor debate that they will be in violation of this law if they do not effectively confront all forms of bullying in their schools. Thompson warned that the examples of harassment listed in the bill were not an exhaustive list and specifically highlighting anti-gay bullying as an issue that must be addressed under the bill.
The Florida Safe Schools Coalition includes students, parents, educators and safe school advocates from nearly 100 local and statewide organizations working to make every school in Florida a safe learning environment free of harassment, bullying and discrimination.