COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Ohio began requiring school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies in 2007, the state didn’t specify exactly what those must look like. As a result, most central Ohio districts have general bans forbidding harassment for any reason or by any method.
On Nov. 3, two state representatives urged their colleagues in the General Assembly to approve a law requiring schools to list specific groups that would be protected by bullying policies, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
Their requests stems from the recent beating of a 15-year-old boy by fellow high school students. The boy’s mother says he was targeted for being gay.
“We cannot allow another child to be bullied, harassed, or worse, beaten because our schools lack an appropriate mechanism to prevent such occurrences from taking place,” Democratic Reps. Nickie Antonio and Michael Stinziano wrote in a letter.
In Franklin County, housing Ohio’s most populous city, Columbus, only four of 16 school districts specifically prohibit the bullying of gay students, those with disabilities or other groups, the newspaper reported.
Research has suggested that the naming of those specific groups, in addition to a blanket ban on bullying, has helped those students.
“From a research perspective, there is some evidence that students who attend schools with anti-bullying policies that include specific protections based on sexual orientation tend to report fewer incidents of victimization based on sexual orientation,” wrote Melissa Holt in an email to the newspaper. Holt is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Boston University.
However, Hollie Reedy, chief legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association, said the group does not advocate adding language to anti-bullying policies singling out specific groups of students.
“My position is (that) bullying is bullying and you do not need to specifically enumerate a class of students to have a good anti-bullying policy,” she said.
When Ohio started requiring that schools institute anti-bullying policies, the State Board of Education wrote a sample policy that individual boards could adopt. At the time, they debated whether to include “sexual orientation” but instead opted to write a model policy with general language.
There is some research that indicates that the suicide rate among gay or bisexual teens could be reduced by highlighting their protection in anti-bullying policies, the newspaper reported.
“School environments are really important for youth,” said Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist and researcher at Columbia University in New York. “When you improve school climate, you see a reduction in suicide.”