Legislation comes as studies show divisive rhetoric in national politics has filtered down to schools

SACRAMENTO — Legislation by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to prevent bullying and harassment in California schools passed the Assembly floor on Monday, August 27, on concurrence and now heads to Governor Brown. Assembly Bill 2291 would require the California Department of Education (CDE) to establish guidelines to prevent bullying and disseminate online training modules to local educators.

“Our children should not be afraid to go to school,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “When one student is bullied, the entire class suffers and misses out on valuable learning opportunities. We must do more to work with the Department of Education and local educators to prevent bullying before it starts.”

While bullying is an age-old problem, recent findings indicate that the divisive and xenophobic rhetoric plaguing our national politics has trickled down to schools. Studies have shown that the most common reason a student is bullied in the United States is related to the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  It is estimated that school districts in California lose out on $267 million dollars annually due to bullying-related absences.

A survey by the Council of American-Islamic Relations revealed that 55 percent of Muslim students have experienced bullying and harassment related to their religion.  The analysis also indicated that students are wary to report incidents of bullying due to a fear of retaliation and a belief that educators do not have the necessary training to intervene and prevent bullying. 

AB 2291 will require the California Department of Education to develop guidelines to protect students before bullying begins. While CDE provides resources for students who have been bullied, but there is no requirement to provide proactive guidance to prevent bullying or cyber-bullying. The bill will help educators and parents stop bullying before it happens, by equipping them with proper tools they need in the classroom and at home. AB 2291 will also build on a 2014 law, AB 1993, that instructed CDE to create online training modules to recognize the dynamics of bullying and cyberbullying.  This bill will ensure those modules are publicly available and distributed to school staff throughout the state.

The California Chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Advancement Project, and Equality California are sponsoring AB 2291.

“It is more important now than ever to address bullying that focuses on long term impact,” said Yannina Casillas, Legislative and Government Relations Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California (CAIR-CA).  “In CAIR California’s statewide report on school bullying, we found that 55 percent of Muslim students in California reported having experienced one or more forms of bullying. The toll that Islamophobia takes on the mental health of American Muslims is significant and even more substantial for students, who are expected to bear the burden of defending against Islamophobic stereotypes while coping with possible mental distress resulting from bullying. AB 2291, will be a step forward in advocating for learning environments that are free from hostility and discrimination.”

“No student should have to experience fear and intimidation in the classroom,” said Andrew Medina, Policy Manager with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California. “AB 2291 will provide school employees with the tools and resources needed to best serve our students when faced with school bullying. The strong bipartisan support for AB 2291 sends a clear message that California will provide supportive learning environments for our most vulnerable students.”

“It is a right of every student to come to a safe and welcoming school environment,” said Khydeeja Alam Javid, Director of Governmental Relations for the Advancement Project California. “Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of bullying is an epidemic that is eating away into that civil right. Our schools need the tools to do more to prevent bullying on school campuses and this bill provides such opportunities. We thank Asm. Chiu for his leadership on this issue and look forward to working with our partners to get this important piece of legislation signed by Governor Brown.”

“California teachers are on the front lines of protecting our students from bullying and cyberbullying, but we need to equip them with the training and tools to do so,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “We’re proud to stand with Assemblymember Chiu in support of AB 2291 and are committed to working toward a day when all our students — including those who are LGBTQ — have a safe and supportive school in which they can learn and succeed.”

Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign the bill.

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