September 6 2012

Parents, Not More Government Paper Tigers, Would Put Real Teeth into School Safety Policies

Vicki E. Alger

Apparently law-abidingness is not a top priority for some California public schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District has so far defied a court order to comply with a 40+ -year old teacher quality law. A recent investigation by the Long Beach Press Telegram also revealed that none of the six Long Beach Unified District schools has updated its safety policies to comply with California’s new anti-bullying law.

Seth’s Law (AB 9) is named for Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student who committed suicide after enduring unrelenting bullying at school, which school officials ignored according to a federal investigation. Under the new law, school districts must have anti-discrimination policies that protect students against gender-biased bullying and harassment. Beginning in November the state will conduct a nine-month compliance audit of all public schools.

All students should be safe at school—regardless of their gender, race, or socio-economic background. Period. In fact, the California State Constitution guarantees, “All students and staff of public primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high schools, and community colleges, colleges, and universities have the inalienable right to attend campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful.” (Article I, Section 28 (c))

In 2008, Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico) introduced The Safe School Guarantee (AB 2361), which would have allowed parents with a reasonable apprehension for their children’s safety to transfer to another school—without having to wait for their children to become victims of violence. A law like that would have helped ensure the Walshes and their son were not kept at the mercy of bullies or negligent school officials.

Predictably, because of the parental choice component, the California Assembly Education Committee voted the measure down along partisan lines.

No parent should have to rely on school officials, government auditors, or politicians to keep their children safe a school. A Safety Opportunity Scholarship (SOS) Program would empower all parents to take swift action to remove their children from unsafe schools, and introduce powerful pressure on schools to implement school safety policies with some teeth—not just another paper tiger in the form of regulatory compliance.

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