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Congress Needs to Stop Bullies

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Growing up in a rough section of Southern California, Linda Sanchez saw firsthand the lasting, painful damage caused by the hateful mouths and fists of schoolyard bullies.

"Bullying and gang violence was something I had to deal with early on," she recalls. "I was one of those kids who always stuck up for the underdogs. So if somebody was being picked on, I usually would try to intervene."

No longer simply a good-hearted student, Sanchez, a Democrat serving her third term in the U.S. House, is working to make public schools safer by requiring educators to do more to stop bullying.

She speaks eloquently about bullying's dangerous ripple effects. The twisted killers in the Virginia Tech and Columbine High School tragedies were bullied before turning violent themselves. In another sad irony, victims of bullies sometimes see joining gangs as a way to protect themselves, she notes.

One in 10 high school dropouts blames bullying. Being bullied puts kids at high risk of having failing grades, hurting themselves with drugs or alcohol and carrying lifelong emotional scars.

"Kids who are bullied are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and depression that can lead to suicide," says Sanchez, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee and sits on the House Education and Labor Committee.

"And the kids who do the bullying, there is a very clear link to becoming an adult career criminal. So if we can stop that behavior when it is not as severe, you can reduce (future) crime," she explains.

Sanchez is the author of two bills that tackle bullying and gangs. Key parts of her bills are in the working draft of House legislation to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law this fall.

States already receive federal money for programs to root drugs and violence out of schools.

At Sanchez's urging, the House draft would require states — in exchange for that federal aid — to report on the prevalence of bullying, harassment and gang activity and to prove they're trying to reduce those problems.

That requirement would be a great first step.

But, as Congress reworks No Child, it should take the all-important next step — spelled out in Sanchez's original legislation — and say that schools' anti-bullying efforts need to specifically address all the most common types of attacks: those based on a "student's actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion."

That's no radical idea. It's recommended by the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Education Association and the National PTA.

Studies show that schools that list all sorts of bullying and tell students, "None of this is allowed!" are more peaceful than those with vague anti-bullying policies, according to "From Teasing to Torment," a report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Any lawmaker goosey about supporting something "pro-gay" should realize that anti-gay bullying ends ups disproportionately hurting straight kids: For every gay, bisexual or transgender kid who gets tormented, four straight kids are harassed because their abuser thought they were gay, according to the National Mental Health Association.

Schools should be places "where kids can go and learn in peace — without fear," Sanchez says.

That's right. No child should be bullied.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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