The Texas legislature recently passed two bills that provide support for LGBT students by targeting bullying and youth suicides.
In an otherwise turbulent legislative session that saw contentious partisan battles over the state budget, public education, redistricting, reproductive health, and immigration, the 82nd session reached consensus on these anti-bullying bills, and both were signed into law by Governor Perry.
“Our 2010 Equality Poll showed overwhelming public support for legislation to address the problem of bullying in schools,” said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, which lobbied for the bills. “We were determined to focus all our efforts to provide school administrators, teachers, and parents with tools to create a safe learning environment for every student.”
The HB 1942, or anti-bullying bill, will:
— Establish a new bullying definition that includes bullying through electronic means (“cyber-bullying”);
— Integrate awareness, prevention, identification, intervention, and resolution of bullying into health curricula;
— Provide local school boards with discretion to transfer a student found to have bullied to another classroom or to another campus, in consultation with the parent or guardian. (Previously, only the victim could be transferred.); and
— Require local school districts to adopt and implement a bullying policy that recognizes minimum guidelines such as prohibiting bullying, providing counseling options, and establishing procedures for reporting, investigating, and responding to an incidence of bullying.
The mandatory reporting aspect of the bill will hold schools more accountable for tracking bullying on their campuses.
“The real goal is prevention,” said Texas Senator John Whitmire. “We’ve got to hold public school officials accountable when they know about these acts.”
While the anti-bullying bill is straightforward and focuses on active behavior, the new youth suicide prevention law, or HB 1386, gives districts resources for intervention and prevention programs for its students.
The HB 1386, or suicide prevention bill, will:
–Give the Texas Department of State Health Services, in coordination with the Texas Education Agency, a list of best-practice-based early intervention and suicide prevention programs for implementation in public elementary, junior high, middle, and high schools; and
–Allow each school district to select from the list a program or programs appropriate for implementation in the district.
In addition, the law gives the board of trustees of each school district the power to adopt a policy concerning early mental health intervention and suicide prevention to:
–establish a procedure for notifying a student’s parent or guardian with a recommendation for early mental health intervention within a reasonable amount of time after the identification of early warning signs;
–establish a procedure for notifying a student’s parent or guardian that the student has been identified as being at risk of committing suicide; and
–set out available counseling alternatives for a parent or guardian to consider.
According to Equality Texas, the policy and procedures are intended to notify parents or guardians of the need for mental health intervention so that they may take appropriate action.
“Every day, our children are emotionally traumatized and scarred,” said State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). “It is our responsibility to protect them before they are driven to suicide or become severely emotionally disturbed.”
Among the LGBT equality or gay-friendly bills left pending in various committees is HB 665, which was introduced by Rep. Michael Villarreal (D-San Antonio) and prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. In addition, HJR 102, which was introduced by Rep. Coleman, proposes a constitutional amendment to repeal the infamous amendment to the Texas Constitution that restricts marriage to one man and one woman, and also prohibits the granting of any legal status similar to marriage.