The state Department of Education is proposing changes to its misconduct and discipline policy to get tough on students who bully, discriminate and harass.
Catching up with the times, the DOE also is proposing to create an offense for sexual harassment and specifically acknowledges sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in its protections against discrimination, bullying and harassment.
The state Board of Education on Thursday unanimously sent the proposed revisions out for public hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.
DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said Friday the changes to the student misconduct and discipline code, known as Chapter 19, have been in the works for nearly a year, in part to satisfy the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The federal office in 2011 initiated a routine review of the DOE’s policies related to bullying and harassment based on race, sex and disability, and the two agencies reached agreement on the updates in December.
Kalani said the policy revisions reflect the DOE’s commitment to providing a safe and nondiscriminatory environment with equal access to public education for all students.
TOUGHER RULESHighlights of proposed changes to DOE student misconduct and discipline code:
>> Creates new offense of sexual harassment, a Class A offense for grades 5-12.
>> Bullying, harassment and cyberbullying upgraded from Class B offense to Class A offense for grades 7-12.
>> Removes provision that allowed isolated or one-time incidents not to be considered bullying.
>> Requires DOE staff to forward complaint to the department’s Civil Rights Compliance Branch or face disciplinary action.
Read more about it here.
“It embraces the values of dignity and respect for one another by strictly prohibiting protected class discrimination, including bullying and harassment,” she said.
For the first time, the policy aims to prevent bullying and harassment based not only on a student’s race, color, national origin or disability, but also on “sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, sex stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature, exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for one’s sex or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity, regardless of the actual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of the individuals involved.”
During the process of creating the updated policy, members of the LGBT community urged the department to identify protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
In his written testimony, Honolulu pediatrician Dr. Robert Bidwell quoted a 1992 report to the state Legislature compiled by the Hawaii Gay and Lesbian Teen Task Force, of which he was chairman. The report called the state’s public and private schools “dangerous places for youths perceived to be lesbian, gay or transgender. These students face a daily threat of ridicule, physical violence and sexual assault on our school campuses. At times teachers have quietly condoned or actively participated in the harassment. With little protection or supportive counseling, many sexual minority youths have dropped out of school rather than contend with continuing fear and abuse.”
Bidwell said the statement is, unfortunately, as true today as it was 26 years ago.
“Pediatric research, and my clinical practice, have taught me that children and youth facing personal issues of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are among the most likely to experience discrimination, bullying and harassment in our schools,” he wrote.
The Special Education Advisory Council in Honolulu asked for greater protections for students with disabilities.
In written testimony, the council said students with disabilities are bullied two to three times more than other students.
“Bullying can cause lasting harm to all involved including poor academic achievement, depression and low self-esteem, and negative impacts to future employment and social relationships,” council officials said.
More than 6,000 Hawaii students statewide earned suspensions last year, according to the DOE. That includes nearly 3,000 for violent behavior. Some 180,000 youngsters attend 256 public schools across the islands.
The proposed policy also upgrades the seriousness of some of offenses. Sexual harassment, for example, is designated a Class A offense for students in grades 5 to 12.
Class A is the most serious type of offenses, but punishment is left to the discretion of school principals, who must consider five factors: the intention of the offender, the nature and severity of the offense, the impact of the offense on others, the age of the offender and if it is a repeat offense.
More than 7,000 students committed Class A offenses during the past school year, DOE records show.
The proposed changes also upgrade bullying, harassment and cyberbullying from a Class B to Class A offense for students in grades 7 to 12.
In addition, the policy offers up additional examples of bullying that include making a phone call without the purpose of legitimate communication, causing fear to block access to school property and making repeated communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours.
Officials said all DOE employees would undergo training on the new rules, and school administrators would get additional training on how to conduct investigations regarding discrimination, harassment and bullying.
Action on Chapter 19 by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd