Posted on November 20, 2010

Washington—November 18, 2010 – Senators Bob Casey and Al Franken and Representatives Jared Polis and Linda Sánchez were joined by singer Clay Aiken, Dancing with the Stars’ Louis Van Amstel, and Sirdeaner Walker and Tammy Aaberg, two mothers who lost their sons to suicide after they faced in-school bullying, to stress the importance two bills that address the bullying and harassment of students in schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), introduced by Rep. Linda Sánchez and Sen. Bob Casey, is a federal anti-bullying bill that includes protections based on race, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The bill has bi-partisan support and currently has 130 cosponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, modeled after Title IX, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis and Sen. Al Franken, would provide protections to students targeted for bullying, harassment and discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill currently as 127 cosponsors in the House and 30 cosponsors in the Senate.

“Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Countless youth are denied access to an education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools.”

“No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied,” said Senator Al Franken. “With the spate of recent suicides in Minnesota that were linked to anti-LGBT bullying, it’s clear that we need to do more to ensure schools provide a safe environment for all students. We must address bullying and harassment in schools in the next Congress.”

Clay Aiken, known to many as an American Idol star, is also a father and a former special education teacher who feels strongly about enacting specific anti-bullying protections so that future generations have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. “I never had someone who told me that it was ok to be different…that it was okay to be me. What I did hear was that it would get better once I was out of high school…that things would get better. But from where I sat, I could not possibly believe that to be true. We need federal leadership from Congress to encourage all states and districts and each and every school to create safe learning environments where all students can learn and succeed.”

Source: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) press release; edited for brevity.