Casey plans to submit the bill next week. The legislation, which stalled in committee last session, would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to require all districts funded through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to introduce codes of conduct that would prohibit bullying and harassment. The mandated anti-bullying policies must, among other provisions, ban harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Casey said there have not been any changes to the bill since he last introduced it two years ago.
“We are going to keep it pretty much the same,” he said in an interview with PGN this week. “Prior to introduction, we might take a look at some provisions. I don’t think it is in need of much amendment because it is pretty simple.”
When he last submitted the bill, he did so with 18 cosponsors; this time around, he and lead sponsor Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) garnered 41 bipartisan cosponsors.
He was unsure about the timeline for the legislation, but said it’s feasible the bill could be folded into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was his intent last session.
“It would help to be a part of that. It would be a moving bill that would get consideration on the floor,” he said. “In order to get the ESEA bill out of the committee, we had to make tough decisions and one of them was to drop Safe Schools from that. This year, I would like find a way to make it part of ESEA or find another path.”
Casey said the bill is integral to the education and well-being of students in Pennsylvania and across the country.
“The fact that we had heard from people across the state and even beyond the state about the problem made us want to do something that was practical and get to the root of the problem,” he said about the legislation. “When a young person goes to school, sometimes a child, sometimes a high -chool student, they are there to learn and they spend half their day in fear. They miss school, they can’t study, they can’t learn and they are in constant anguish. It is the ultimate betrayal if we can’t keep them safe in school. It is about a basic obligation to our children.”
And those problems can be especially felt by LGBT students, he added.
“Bullying is an acute problem for children who happen to be LGBT and a lot of the examples have been in that context,” he said.
Casey announced the reintroduction of his measure during the launch of a flag-raising campaign as part of Cartoon Network’s “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” initiative Feb. 20 at Warren G. Harding Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia.
The campaign, and the new flag-raising component that encourages schools to put their commitment to anti-bullying on display, is designed to elevate bullying as a top-priority issue.
“One of the biggest challenges we have when we have legislation is to keep an issue in front of the American people in a consistent way, and often the only way you can do that is bringing an issue to people’s attention in many different ways,” Casey said. “You try and find multiple different ways to highlight the solution. [The campaign] is an opportunity to highlight a problem and do it in a unique way.”