DALLAS — By a unanimous vote, the Dallas Independent School District school board this week approved a new anti-bullying policy that for the first time included protections for LGBTQ students.
Dallas area LGBTQ activists and equality rights groups praised the policy’s language and offered that it was a bold, pioneering move for a Texas school district.
“It is not only the right thing to do, it is visionary,” said CeCe Cox, the executive director of Resource Center Dallas.
The Dallas Morning News quoted a former student, William Morbant, who is gay and attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
“The memory I will have of going to DISD schools is being harassed,” said Morbant, who said he twice attempted to commit suicide because of bullying. Had the new policy existed when he was a student, he said, “I believe I would have had a better growing-up experience in school. I wouldn’t have to go take 20 pain pills to get rid of the pain.”
The Dallas school district initially considered implementing an anti-bullying policy after the recent outbreak of suicides by gay teenagers and others who had been bullied in schools nationwide, reported the Morning News. The leaders in Dallas’ LGBTQ community criticized the board’s first proposal, objecting that it was too broad and did not included language protecting LGBTQ students specifically.
The policy approved Thursday night is lengthy, detailed and takes effect immediately. The district’s definition of bullying ranges from hitting, intimidation and flashing gang signs to making fun of students because of their national origin, family background, political beliefs and other reasons. It also includes provisions about cyber bullying and cyber stalking.
“We have tried to be as inclusive as we can,” said trustee Lew Blackburn, who helped draft the policy. “Schools should be one of the places we call a safe haven for kids.”
School Board member Bernadette Nutall apologized to Morbant and other students in the audience who said they had suffered during the time period that there wasn’t an anti-bullying policy in place in the district. “I apologize we didn’t act on this faster,” Nutall said.
When the new policy takes effect, possible punishment for those students who bully could range from counseling to expulsion. The new guidelines call for assessment to be done on a case by case basis.
The Dallas ISD is the second largest school district in Texas and the twelfth largest in the United States, and has over 158,000 enrolled students.