July 24, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
DC seeks to bolster anti-bullying policies
Suzanne Greenfield, Office of Human Rights, D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. (Photo courtesy of Elliot Imse)

The DC Office of Human Rights will partner with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to work with public and charter schools in Washington to strengthen their anti-bullying policies.

Under the voluntary initiative, schools will complete an assessment of their implementation of DC’s anti-bullying laws and efforts to combat the issue in eight components designed to create a safe environment for students in the classroom. These include compliance with anti-bullying laws, engagement from school officials and staffers and the collection of data that accurately gauges the issues.

The participating schools will also receive technical assistance in areas in which they could potentially improve.

The Iowa Pride Network initially developed the framework — the Safe School Certification Program — after lawmakers in the Hawkeye State in 2007 passed a sweeping anti-bullying law.

The group convened a task force to develop components — including student, family and community engagement, the use of so-called evidence-based programs and practices to improve a school’s climate towards bullying and providing training for all staff — after it became concerned the schools needed support and training to achieve the statute’s goals.

“Through our framework, technical assistance and coaching, schools aren’t just implementing the letter of the law but the spirit of the law,” Ryan Roemerman, program director of the Safe School Certification Program, said. “By taking part in this program, not only are schools recognized, they are ensuring that their time is focused on efforts that truly create safe learning environments for all students.”

The RFK Center partnered with the Iowa Pride Network under its new anti-bullying initiative — Project SEATBELT (Safe Environment Achieved Through Bullying prevention, Engagement, Leadership and Training respect) — it launched last month.

Project SEATBELT chose DC as one of four cities in which to pilot the program.

Deborah Temkin of the RFK Center said these “initial efforts” with the D.C. Office of Human Rights are the “first steps to bringing the program” to the nation’s capital.

“We know that schools across the country and in DC are really wanting to do the right thing,” she said. “We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for bullying, so our real solution is to help them understand what their context is, what’s working in their context, what may not be working as well and what they may need to focus on a little bit more in order to really accomplish the key components of a safe school and then give them the support and assistance to do so.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights has given the RFK Center a $40,000 grant to implement the program in which 14 public schools in Iowa currently participate.

“We want this to be a part of how [D.C. schools] do everything,” Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights said. “We want it infused in their sort of mantra of school policies.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights and the RFK Center announced their partnership slightly more than a year after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that requires city agencies that work directly with young people to implement an anti-bullying policy.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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