SAFEGUARDING AMERICAN VALUES FOR EVERYONE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011
BREAKING: MIAMI-DADE SCHOOL OFFICIALS INCREASE PROTECTIONS FOR LGBT STUDENTS
Miami-Dade, FL – Three years after Florida passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which prohibits the bullying or harassment, including cyber bullying, of any public K-12 student or employee, Miami-Dade County Administration amended their policy to be explicitly inclusive of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). The policy will now include “sexual orientation and gender identity” providing clearer protections for LGBT students.
“For the past year we’ve focused on strengthening Miami-Dade’s anti-bullying policy as a way to create a climate where bullying a student because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity is no longer tolerated,” said C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade. SAVE Dade worked with their partner the ACLU of Florida in developing the policy’s new language.
“The most common forms of bullying and harassment in Florida schools, and across the country, are based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical appearance,” said Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida LGBT Project Attorney. “Although the state anti-bullying law clearly prohibits bullying and harassment of any students, it is imperative that individual school district policies make clear that bullying and harassment of LGBT students is prohibited and will not be tolerated. This is a critical step in making Florida schools truly safe for all students.”
According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey 7,261 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (84.6%) experienced harassment at school in the previous year. Miami-Dade County provides significant support through public school programs and nonprofit organizations for LGBT students.
Suzy Milano, Director of Mental Health and Crisis Management Services for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Coordinator of the District’s Sexual Minority Network said, “Our work provides prevention and intervention services that promotes awareness, diversity, and acceptance in the fourth largest school district in the country.” Ms. Milano’s project is unique to Florida’s school systems with services focused on protecting students from bullying in schools. Milano also credits SAVE Dade’s technical support as being critical to the policy’s success. The amendment took place during a county wide update aimed at improving and streamlining many of the school district’s administrative policies.
Whereas policy is an important factor in providing anti-bullying protections, it is one of several actions being taken to protect the interest of all students. “To confront bullying head on, we need a balanced approach by passing effective policy and offering programs that educate faculty/administration; removes barriers for reporting; and provides support and safety for all affected students,” said Carla Silva, executive director of the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth. Silva’s organization takes a holistic approach by integrating education, advocacy, and services into programming that helps our LGBT students.
“SAVE Dade’s contribution is to strengthen policies in hope that it provides some clarity for adults and students on the frontlines of bullying – if a teacher knows and understands that gay students are explicitly protected from bullying, it could result in a report that saves a young person’s life,” said Ortuno.
The new policy updates will go into effect Friday, July 22, 2011. An English version will be posted on the school board’s website at that time, with Spanish and Creole versions to follow.
The new policy language will read:
"Bullying, Harassment, Cyberbullying, and Discrimination (as referred to and defined herein) encompasses, but is not limited to, unwanted harm towards a student or employee based on or with regard to actual or perceived: sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability (physical, mental, or educational), marital status, socio-economic background, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background. This policy prohibits bullying or harassment of any student by any Board member, District employee, consultant, contractor, agent, visitor, volunteer, student, or other person in the school or outside of the school at school-sponsored events, on school buses, and at training facilities or training programs sponsored by the District."
SAVE Dade's mission is to promote, protect and defend equality for people in Miami-Dade County who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Established in 1993, SAVE Dade accomplishes this mission through education initiatives, outreach, grassroots organizing, and advocacy. Starting with the landmark passage of Miami's Human Rights Ordinance in 1998 to recent enactments of domestic partner benefit policies, SAVE continues to lead the fight for LGBT equality in Miami-Dade County through grassroots action focused on civil rights, parental rights, and relationship recognition through political advocacy, community outreach, and candidate endorsements.