|Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) authored Sethâ€™s Law.
The California State Senate approved Sethâ€™s Law (AB 9) in a 24-14 vote on Sept. 2. Sethâ€™s Law is designed to address the pervasive problem of school bullying by providing California schools with tools to create a safe school environment for all students. The bill is authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBTQ equality, including Equality California, the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and The Trevor Project. The bill is named in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student from Tehachapi, CA, who took his life in September 2010, after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.
â€śI want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for taking this important step forward to ensuring that schools have the necessary tools to prevent any young person from being bullied, harassed or worse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression,â€ť said Ammiano. â€śAs a former teacher, I know how important it is for our students to feel safe at school. We have a moral duty to our youth to prevent bullying, and Sethâ€™s Law will help schools protect students, and prevent and respond to bullying before a tragedy occurs.â€ť
â€śPublic schools have tremendous power and responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment,â€ť said James Gilliam with the ACLU of California, and director of the Seth Walsh Studentsâ€™ Rights Project at the ACLU of Southern California. â€śBetter school procedures and policies to prevent and address bullying will make a safer environment for students who are suffering.â€ť
â€śSenate passage of AB 9 is especially timely with National Suicide Prevention Week about to begin,â€ť said David McFarland, interim executive director and CEO of The Trevor Project. â€śIt signals that California lawmakers are invested in the safety of students and want teachers and staff to be better prepared to address the harmful consequences of persistent bullying and harassment.â€ť
Over the past several months, Sethâ€™s Law has raised an important discussion about the need to help schools protect LGBTQ students and other vulnerable youth from bullying. While California already prohibits school harassment, schools often do not have the tools or knowledge to adequately protect LGBTQ students and others from bullying, which remains a serious issue across the state and the rest of the nation. Students, parents, and school employees often do not know what the rules are or what to do if bullying occurs.
In a recent national survey, nine out of ten LGBTQ students reported being harassed at school. The problem persists in California as well, with LGBTQ students reporting significant harassment. The California Safe Schools Coalition reported in 2010 that 42% of California students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 62% who identify as transgender, said they had been harassed at least once based on gender nonconformity.
According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 27% of students who reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation said they missed school at least one day during the past 30 because they felt unsafe. Increased truancy rates lead to a lack of funding for schools.
Besides truancy, the consequences of bullying and harassment can include falling grades, depression, and risk of suicide. Students who reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation were four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.
- Write to Dennis McMillan at BayTimesDennis@juno.com.