In the wake of the tragic murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, civil rights advocates in Washington are calling for passage of the Safe Schools Act. At a press conference at the ACLU-WA office, State Representative Ed Murray announced that he is again sponsoring the measure in the 1999 state legislature.
The Safe Schools Act requires school districts around the state to establish and implement policies for dealing with malicious harassment in public school. Under the bill, school staff members would receive training in how to respond to incidents of harassment based on gender, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or handicap.
"Many districts and teachers, including well-meaning ones, have not been trained about how to recognize and deal with harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. The Act would help educators make it clear that there is no tolerance for harassment in public schools," said Kathleen Taylor, the ACLU-WA's Executive Director.
Also urging passage of the measure is the Safe Schools Coalition, a statewide network of governmental, educational, and religious groups working to end harassment of gay and lesbian students. In January the Coalition issued a report which documents 111 incidents of harassment against gay and lesbian students in Washington's public schools. The Coalition offers written materials and training for educators. They also have a hotline for victims and witnesses of harassment incidents (1-800-5B-PROUD).
The ACLU-WA recently donated $500 to support distribution of the Coalition's educational materials.