Signs of Life for Anti-Bullying Initiatives in D.C.

City Council prepares to pass long-stalled legislation as Gray proposes action plan to prevent bullying

By John Riley
Published on April 19, 2012, 8:40am | Comments

A City Council bill aimed at preventing physical and electronic forms of harassment, intimidation and bullying in District schools, libraries, parks and recreation centers – introduced more than a year ago ­– is finally seeing some movement.

The bill, the ''Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011,'' would require D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), D.C. Public Charter Schools (DCPCS), the Department of Parks and Recreation, the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to adopt policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation or bullying on those agencies' property, at agency-sponsored functions and on school buses.

Under the bill, those agencies are allowed to design and exercise local control over the specifics of their individual policies, but each policy must have a minimum requirement of 10 elements that the District deems essential to anti-bullying efforts.

The bill also requires the agencies to adopt bullying prevention programs, and provides protections for victims, witnesses and people with important information about acts of harassment, intimidation or bullying from reprisal or retaliation by employees, students or volunteers representing those agencies. The bill additionally protects individual employees who promptly report incidents in accordance with the agency's adopted policy from legal actions that might result from any failure to remedy the reported incident.

According to Charles Allen, chief of staff for Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, the bill will be marked up Friday, April 20, before going before the Committee of the Whole. As a procedural move, the bill has also been referred to the Committee of the Whole separately. Allen says that after mark-up, the bill will be referred to the Committee of the Whole, before heading to the full council for a final vote.

The bill – which stalled after the reassignment of former Libraries, Parks and Recreation chairwoman Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) to the Committee on Government Operations, and Wells from the Committee on Environment, Public Works and Transportation to Libraries, Parks and Recreation – comes a little more than a week after Mayor Vincent Gray (D) announced his own plan to combat bullying within the District.

Gray's plan, which will be implemented by the D.C. Office of Human Rights, has several action items, such as the formation of a task force with 14 city agency directors, including Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, Chancellor Kaya Henderson of DCPS and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier. The task force, which will also include teachers, parents and local nonprofits such as the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates (DC AYA), will commission a report and create model policy and standards for anti-bullying initiatives.

''GLSEN applauds Mayor Vincent C. Gray for his leadership in putting forth an exceptional plan that focuses on the reduction and prevention of bullying in the District's public school system,'' GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a GLSEN release. ''Mayor Gray's new 'Anti-Bullying Action Plan' is a comprehensive effort that calls for evidence-based interventions to address the specific needs facing the District's schools.''