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With school districts across the country grappling with demands for anti-bullying policies, one conservative activist group is doing all it can to make it easy and convenient for school officials, by handing it to them on a platter.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, in partnership with Focus on The Family, has created a Model Bullying Policy http://media.citizenlink.com/truetolerance/ModelAnti-BullyingPolicy.pdf and an accompanying Anti-Bullying Policy Yardstick http://media.citizenlink.com/truetolerance/AntiBullyingPolicyYardstick.pdf which it submitted to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and plans to send to school districts and officials around the country.
The problem is, the ADF Model Policy actually enables bullies by giving them an exemption from the consequences of bullying if it is for “religious, political, philosophical or other protected student speech.” It also emphasizes the “need” for “precise definitions,” thereby limiting what could be considered as bullying and giving students exemption from protection. It also states that schools should not get involved in bullying that occurs off of school property or via the internet, and bans any sort of counseling to address the root cause of the bullying.
Michigan passed its anti-bullying legislation in 2011 after removing a provision that gave exception to religious speech, which was not even as far reaching as the one in the ADF’s model policy. While legislators did not include such language, it could still be implemented at the local school district level.
“As President of the State Board of Education, I can say the Focus on the Family anti-bullying position is not an anti-bullying policy at all,” said Michigan Board of Education President John Austin. “All the central features that we know make an effective anti-bullying policy and school environment are absent from or opposed by their recommendations: Acknowledgement that not just violent acts, but emotional harassment and psychological torment ARE the key ways bullies, bully; clear enumeration of the groups of students (gay, obese, minority etc) who are most often the targets of bullies and calling that out clearly as unacceptable; mandatory reporting of bullying episodes; required school staff and administrator training on creating an anti-bullying culture; extension of anti-bullying to cyber and social media communication – all are central features of an effective anti-bullying school program; all are discouraged by focus on the family. Further, under the guise of protecting First Amendment rights, their policy actually endorses bullying i.e. abusing someone who is gay if one’s religion teaches you gay people are bad or evil.”
In several states, the ADF’s Model Policy would not be legal at all. Washington DC and 15 states require that anti-bullying policies include protections against bullying on the basis of traits such as race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
The American Family Association is helping to disseminate the ADF’s policy, stating on their website that “Alliance Defending Freedom is committed to protecting the rights of students and their parents. In many cases, issues can be resolved when Alliance Defending Freedom sends letters or contacts the appropriate school officials and explains the correct interpretation of the law. However, when necessary, Alliance Defending Freedom and its more than 2,200 Allied Attorneys may take legal action to ensure that students’ rights are protected so they can freely live out and share their faith at school http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/issues/school.”
“Bullying can be widespread and horrific in its consequences, driving kids out of schools, and sometimes to suicide,” said Austin. “A culture can be created in every school that ends bullying, and creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. There is no excuse for every school not to create such a culture. State Board of Education’s model anti-bullying policy helps districts accomplish that goal. Focus on The Family undermines the creation of a ‘zero-tolerance’ for bullying environment,” Austin said.
The State of Michigan Board of Education Model Anti-Bullying Policy is much more inclusive and offers a variety of tools through which school administrators can protect students. It’s definition of bullying is broad, and it makes clear what some specific prohibited acts are http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Model_Anti-bullying_Policy_with_Revisions_338592_7.pdf.