The Pennsylvania Youth Congress

PYC was established in 2011 to lead Pennsylvania’s schools to be safer places for all youth. Pennsylvania’s anti-bullying law is incredibly weak at curbing school violence. Pennsylvania and United States education laws leave students especially vulnerable to bullying based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and national origin.

PYC is integrally involved in supporting the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act. You can find more information on this legislation at www.pasafeschoolsact.com.

Safe Schools – Anti-bullying

Here is a brief overview on the current Pennsylvania law regarding bullying:

The Pennsylvania School Code, Act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14) sets the statewide policy regarding anti-bullying in elementary and secondary public schools and private schools which receive state funding. It was amended by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2008. HB 1067 became law on July 4, 2008 (Passed 191-11 in the PA House, unanimous in the PA Senate). It mandates that every school district have a anti-bullying policy, with disciplinary and preventative attributes. The law also makes each school have a point person to whom reports of bullying are directed to; mandates the policy be publicly accessible and reviewed with students at least once a year; and does not require or limit schools to go after bullying off of school grounds.

Pennsylvania law currently defines bullying as:

FOR PURPOSES OF THIS ARTICLE, “BULLYING” SHALL MEAN AN INTENTIONAL ELECTRONIC, WRITTEN, VERBAL OR PHYSICAL ACT, OR A SERIES OF ACTS:
(1) DIRECTED AT ANOTHER STUDENT OR STUDENTS;
(2) WHICH OCCURS IN A SCHOOL SETTING;
(3) THAT IS SEVERE, PERSISTENT OR PERVASIVE; AND
(4) THAT HAS THE EFFECT OF DOING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
(I) SUBSTANTIALLY INTERFERING WITH A STUDENT’S EDUCATION;
(II) CREATING A THREATENING ENVIRONMENT; OR
(III) SUBSTANTIALLY DISRUPTING THE ORDERLY OPERATION OF THE SCHOOL; AND “SCHOOL SETTING” SHALL MEAN IN THE SCHOOL, ON SCHOOL GROUNDS, IN SCHOOL VEHICLES, AT A DESIGNATED BUS STOP OR AT ANY ACTIVITY SPONSORED, SUPERVISED OR SANCTIONED BY THE SCHOOL.

Pennsylvania has 501 school districts – each with their own anti-bullying policy.

Federal law does not provide for protections in schools in relation to discrimination or anti-bullying policies on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would amend federal education law to do so.

Safe Schools – Student non-discrimination

Under current Pennsylvania and federal education laws – students are not specifically defended by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression from school districts administrators, teachers, or staff. The federal Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would provide for non-discrimination protections in school environments. There is no law in Pennsylvania in regards to student non-discrimination. At this time it must be specifically defined in a school district’s code or through a local non-discrimination ordinance (which includes “public education”) or through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Safe Schools – Forming a GSA

Under the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984 – students must be allowed for form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). A school may refuse to do so, but then they would have to close all extracurricular activities. It is a deprivation of civil rights to deny a student to form a GSA. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or Lambda Legal may be able to assist in a lawsuit if an unfavorable decision is made by a school district administration.