The law prohibits bullying and harassment by employees, students, and volunteers and is based on 17 protected categories (race, sex, religion, gender identity, nationality, political beliefs, age, socio-economic status, etc.).
The law also requires schools to adopt a policy that defines consequences and procedures for investigating incidents, as well as data collecting and reporting.
“The Safe Schools Law was an unfunded mandate that needed both guided implementation and monitoring. Implementation was not successful at first, because the mandate was not specific. It’s hard to mandate behavior,” said Williamson. “It takes new skills, behavior, and belief.”
In an effort to change behavior, Williamson started a grassroots effort to help shape state policy.
Schools also must complete a standardized report form on bullying and have a data collection system in place. The state is currently in the process of altering its data collection to meet the needs of Civil Rights Data Collection.
The state also created a Safe School Certification Program. The program focuses on law compliance and elements that make a school safe, such as trainings for students and teachers about the law and programs that combat bullying. The certification is given by a coalition of diverse nonprofit organizations and state agencies that represent the 17 protected categories within the law.
“The program is important because nationally, states that see unenforced laws are less likely to want to pass comprehensive Safe School Laws,” explained Ryan Roemerman, co-founder and executive director of the Iowa Pride Network, a nonprofit organization that works with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth.
“Knowing what it takes to pass, implement, and enforce laws allows for better law creation. Ultimately, this is a transition that many states will face; this program will provide a much-needed framework.”
From a national perspective, Dr. Ken Seeley, president of the National Center for School Engagement (NCSE), pointed schools to the organization’s recently released “National School Climate Standards,” which provide a standards-based approach to governance.
The five standards measure whether or not the school community:
- Has a shared vision and plan;
- Sets policies specifically promoting the development and sustainability of social, emotional, ethical, civic, and intellectual skills; knowledge dispositions and engagement; and a comprehensive system to address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage students who have become disengaged;
- Identifies, prioritizes, and supports best practices;
- Creates an environment where all members are welcomed, supported, and feel safe in school; and
- Develops meaningful and engaging practices, activities, and norms that promote social and civic responsibilities and a commitment to social justice.
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