Oklahoma defeats anti-bullying bill

Oklahoma activists Kathy Williams, President, and Laura Belmonte, Vice President, of The Equality Network, has issued a press release bemoaning the action Oklahoma’s legislators by their refusal to pass anti-bullying laws.

Defeat of Anti-Bullying Bill Leaves Students Vulnerable

May 17, 2011 – TULSA – The Equality Network is deeply troubled by the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ 44-52 vote yesterday to defeat HB 1461, a bill that strengthened the reporting and training requirements for bullying prevention programs in Oklahoma public schools. The bill also added cyberbullying to the list of prohibited behaviors.

In the fall of 2010, a wave of suicides related to the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) young people drew national attention. Vigils, educational programs, and the hugely popular “It Gets Better” YouTube campaign condemned bullying. Several states responded with passage of strong anti-bullying laws including neighboring Arkansas. Texas and Missouri have similiar bills pending.

When the 2011 Oklahoma legislative session convened, Rep. Lee Denney, Rep. Anastasia Pittman, and Sen. Andrew Rice introduced bills improving the state’s 2002 School Bullying Prevention Act. Only Denney’s gained momentum. After stripping the bill of enumerated categories of protection, the House passed HB 1461 by a 74-23 vote on March 8. With Sen. James Halligan as its co-author, the bill traveled to the Senate Public Safety Commitee. After deleting a provision holding school districts liable for failure to enforce anti-bullying policies, the Senate passed the bill 43-0 on April 13. Yesterday’s vote on the version emerging from the conference committee on education kills the measure for this session.

“This is really sad news for Oklahoma’s students. Each day, students are physically attacked and verbally terrorized in our schools. It is disgraceful that our legislators refused to pass even this watered-down bill to help administrators, teachers, parents, and students create safer schools. No one can learn in a climate of fear.” said Kathy L. Williams, president of The Equality Network.

A newly released report on public school policies paints a bleak picture for LGBT students in Oklahoma. A joint project of TEN and a team of Oklahoma State University counseling psychology graduate students led by Professor Sue Jacobs, the 2011 Public School Fairness Index reveals that only 20 districts out of over 500 include sexual orientation in policies protecting students. Of these, only Oklahoma City and Union districts also include gender identity. These omissions leave LGBT students highly vulnerable in districts that do not explicitly protect them from harassment and intimidation.

It would seem a no-brainer to pass legislation to provide the tools to protect young Oklahomans from harassment and bullying.

Conservative Oklahoma legislators are more concerned about protecting the bullies, and the bully’s religious right champions, rather than the bullied, like Ty Field, who shot and killed himself in Oklahoma City after being targeted by a bully at his school. Eternal shame on the conservative lawmakers of the Oklahoma State House.

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