March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

DC Mayor Signs Law Requiring Youth Anti-Bullying Policies in Libraries, Other City Agencies

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray on Friday signed a bill that requires public libraries, schools, recreation centers, and other city agencies that work with young people to adopt and implement antibullying policies.

Mayor Gray signs the Youth Bullying Prevention
Act of 2012 into law.

While the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 doesn’t aim to criminalize bullying, it’s unique because it takes a citywide approach to prevention by targeting libraries, parks, and other public spaces.

The bill calls for the creation of an Anti-Bullying Task Force, composed of district agencies and anti-bullying and community advocates, to devise a comprehensive model policy that will be used as a framework for agencies adopting anti-bullying policies. The law also protects those who report bullying incidents from retaliation.

DC now joins 15 other states that have passed antibullying laws that specifically protect sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

Micki Freeny, coordinator of youth services for the District of Columbia Public Library, says the main library and its 24 branches expect the new framework to strengthen its existing behavioral guidelines, which already cover verbal and physical harassment.

“We hope it will do something to empower youth to speak up if bullied and to speak up if witnessing bullying,” says Freeny, adding that she also hopes the model policy will help librarians better identify and handle these situations. A cyberbullying component will be crucial because libraries need clear guidance on whether they have jurisdiction over online harassment, she says.

“We want children to have a safe place to report incidents of bullying and to help bullies who have an underlying problem,” Freeny adds.

Freeny says the library doesn’t deal with many bullying incidents, but that may be due to the fact that as many as 85 percent of incidents go unreported. Each day, one in five children is the target of bullying or cyberbullying in the United States-and bullying incidents can lead to severe long-term social and emotional problems for victims.

“We are taking another bold and concrete step towards eradicating bullying in the District,” Gray said on Friday. “There is much more work to do, but I can’t think of a more noble or impactful goal than to end the bullying of our youth and continue to create environments where our young people learn and thrive in health and safety.”

The Task Force, which is working closely with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, will research best practices nationwide and investigate types of bullying that are unique to the District to better develop policies that specifically address DC youth, says Gustavo Velasquez, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

Task force members include officials from the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the Mayor’s Office on GLBT Affairs, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Health, D.C. Public Charter School Board, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the D.C. Public Library, Department of Mental Health, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Office of Disability Rights, University of the District of Columbia, and Child and Family Services Administration.

Educational organizations represented on the Task Force include Advocates for Youth; Afterschool Alliance; Break the Cycle; Children’s National Medical Center; D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates; the D.C. Center; D.C. Trans Coalition; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Fight for Children; Latin American Youth Center; Metro Teen AIDS; Sasha Bruce Youthwork; and Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL).

The antibullying act is part of a larger effort by Gray to explore and address youth bullying in the District. Last year, he declared April 21 “Bully-Free D.C. Day” to build public awareness about the effects of bullying on young people.

About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.

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