Fed grants awarded to begin addressing bullying and safe schools

The U.S. Department of Education announced the awarding of $38.8 million in grants to 11 states from a new Safe and Supportive School program, just days after a media blitz about the bullying-related suicides of five teenagers. But the grants weren’t made in reaction to the recent news.

Kevin Jennings
Kevin Jennings

The U.S. Department of Education announced today (Oct. 5) the awarding of $38.8 million in grants to 11 states from a new Safe and Supportive School program. The timing comes just days after a media blitz about the suicides of five teenagers, at least four of whom were bullied for being gay or being perceived as gay. But anybody who knows Washington knows Tuesday’s grants weren’t made in reaction to the recent news.

“It would be inaccurate to say we’re doing this as a response to recent events,” said Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) at the U.S. Department of Education.

Jennings, the nation’s top official for promoting safe schools, said the latest string of teen suicides driven by anti-gay bullying is, sadly, not a new trend.

“The problem of greater rates of suicide among LGBT youth being linked to school bullying is something that has been documented and known for a very long time,” said Jennings.

Jennings has some experience in the matter. As a teenager, he himself attempted suicide and had been the subject of relentless bullying in middle school and early high school. He founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 1990 to help promote safe and respectful climates for LGBT youth in schools. And the week in April 2009 when the Obama administration offered him the position as head of OSDFS, news broke about the bullying-related suicide of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been the subject of anti-gay taunts. That news, he said, inspired him to take the job.

Jennings, in an interview, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also been long aware that “bullying and harassment are first and foremost an education issue,” because he understands kids will not want to be in school if they are bullied and harassed.

Jennings points to Duncan’s hiring of him for the safe schools position as proof of the Secretary’s commitment, and notes that Duncan met with GLSEN student leaders even before that.

Duncan also released a statement October 1 in response to the news of the recent suicides. But Jennings notes that he and Duncan have been prioritizing efforts to prevent bullying since they each took office.

The Safe and Supportive Schools grants announced this week are to “measure school safety” and “to help intervene in those schools with the greatest safety needs.” The eleven states chosen to receive this initial round of grants are: Arizona, California, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The grants require the selected states to implement in-depth surveys of students, family, and staff about school safety issues and “direct grant monies to the schools that the students say have the biggest problems,” and to the problems the students identify as the largest, said Jennings. Directing funds based on student feedback, he noted, is a new approach to school safety, of which bullying is a subset.

“This is a major step forward,” said Jennings, “ . . . because the only people who really know what’s going on in the schools are the kids.”

The program requires a four-year commitment by the states to survey schools, direct money to solving the problems, resurvey, and make the survey results public.

For fiscal year 2011, OSDFS has asked for $165 million in order to expand the program to additional states.

Last August, OSDFS convened the department’s first-ever Bullying Prevention Summit, with government leaders from several departments, including Secretary Duncan, who gave the keynote. Also attending were Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and 150 community leaders from around the country. Jennings said that, while many people and organizations have been working on bullying for years, “Never had they all been in the same room before.”

“We brought together everybody—from GLSEN to the Christian Educators Association,” said Jennings.

During his keynote, Secretary Duncan said it was “an absolute travesty of our educational system” when students worry about being bullied at school “or suffer discrimination and taunts because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or a host of other reasons.”

Summit attendees heard “incredibly disturbing reports” about the bullying of Muslim students and students with disabilities, among other things, said Jennings.

The next step will be to develop a plan based on the issues raised at the Summit. A federal task force, with representatives from multiple offices within the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services (HHS), Agriculture, Defense, and Interior is meeting every two weeks. A larger group, including non-governmental leaders, meets once a month.

Jennings would not give a date for when a plan will be ready. He said he wants to make sure it is “very detailed and very specific” and that “everybody’s on board.” And he said the department would hold a second summit next year.

“We are committed to a multi-year effort on this.”

One near-term action will come from the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Secretary Duncan explained in his keynote that OCR would be “issuing policy guidance to schools” to explain that bullying can include racial, sexual, or disability harassment that is prohibited by civil rights laws. It would also outline the legal responsibilities schools have “to protect students from discriminatory harassment.”

Russlyn Ali, Assistant Secretary for OCR, noted in her speech at the Summit that this includes sexual harassment “when students don’t conform to traditional gender roles.”

A spokesperson for the department said they hope to issue the guidance “in the next few months.”

The approach is similar to that taken by the U.S. Justice Department, which intervened in January in the case of a New York teen who was bullied and physically hurt for being effeminate. Justice Department lawyers argued that Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, also applied to gender expression. In an out-of-court settlement, the school district agreed to pay the boy $50,000, legal fees, and the cost of therapy.

Jennings said the OSDFS has also pulled together the many disparate resources the government has on bullying into a new consolidated Web site, Bullyinginfo.org, which the office launched in August.

It has also worked with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of HHS, on a Stop Bullying Now campaign initially aimed at middle school students. The Education Department provided additional funding to expand the campaign to elementary schools. (The “What Adults Can Do” section of the site—stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov—includes a page on anti-gay bullying.)

Jennings notes, however, that there is no federal law on bullying and “no specific protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” As part of the executive branch, he says, “we are given authority to address issues by Congress, so at this point, we’re trying to find, in the absence of a national bullying law, what constructive steps we can take.”

There are bills in Congress, however, that would provide such laws. The Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) would prohibit discrimination—including harassment—on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would require schools that receive federal funds to implement and report on anti-bullying programs that include bullying based on a student’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, among other attributes. Versions of both bills are still pending committee action in the House and Senate. They would need to be reintroduced if they are not passed before the end of the current session of Congress.

Federal departments and their employees are prohibited by law from lobbying Congress about specific legislation, however, so the Department of Education cannot move the legislation forward.

On the state and local levels, Jennings said, the department can provide “guidance and resources,” such as the Summit and the Safe and Supportive Schools grants. But state and local entities, he said, are “the guiding force in American education,” because “ninety-two cents of every dollar spent on K through 12 education in America comes from state and local taxes.”

The department is “trying to provide some leadership,” Jennings said, but adds, “Anybody who thinks the U.S. Department of Education singlehandedly is going to end the bullying crisis is deeply misguided. We have a very important role to play, but we cannot do this without state and local departments of education, without community-based organizations, without the clergy, without individual citizens, without parents, without kids themselves, also stepping up and showing leadership.”

24 thoughts on “Fed grants awarded to begin addressing bullying and safe schools”

  1. i would like to recieve information on how to apply for a grant . my company does bully proof programs that have been proven both effective and affective in grades k-12. i have been very effective working with at risk students on many different and difficult levels ~ i have letters of recommendation that can best describe how my programs have worked ~ please contact me as soon as possible , so that together we can make a difference in saving the lives of our youth and adults ~ who truly have been wounded by words ~ the commercial words wound is by far one of the best ways to show that words will always hurt someones soul and can destroy one’s spirit and zest for life ~ sincerely , caren fitzpatrick

  2. I would love to have more information on how to apply for a grant for implemeting an anti-bulling program in our high school.

  3. i have requested information on how to obtain a grant and as to this date jan 222010 i have recieved ant inbformation ~ so far there have beeb 7 sucides in my town due due the cruelty that children and adults think nothing of by destroying ones life and there families ~ please let this be for real and not another lets walk the walk or talk the talk when a crisis hits and that it is for gotten about ~ i am sure research has proven the point tht many young people miss school because of this devasting situation ~ looking foward to hearing from you asap ~ for the longer we wait the more lives we will lose ~ answer me this question~ are you willing to lose a life of someone that you love~ i think we all know the answer to this question ~ yet it happens ever day ~sincerely~ caren fitzpatrick ~ time is of the absolute essense

  4. Hi, I am on the board of the youth foundation in my town, Andover, MA and would like info on how to apply for a bullying and safe schools grant. Thanks

  5. I am an educator and I have elected to step away from the classroom to assist educators who are struggling to maintain their sanity in the classroom because of bullying and other extrinsic issues. With that being said, I am interested in more information about the disposition of the bullying summit as well as information about the protocol of submitting a bullying and safe schools grant.

  6. I work for a grant writing firm. I would like to recieve information about anti bullying grants for 2011.

  7. I am a Director of a youth program in Jacksonville Florida.I would like to know more about how to apply for a grant to implemeting an anti-bulling program in my school district

  8. Please send me information on how to apply for the grant to implement anti-bullying programs in my community. Thank You, Clarissa Moramarco, San Diego, CA

  9. The YWCA has been presenting Bullying is Never Cool programs for the fifth and third graders in central Wi for over seven years. We have reached thousands of children with the message of how to stand up for yourself and others, and we need funding to continue this important work.

  10. I have a book that was accepted for publishing later this year. As an educator I always look for literature to introduce content matter to children and my book uses a friendly character as a tool for educators/parents to address the issues of bullying. The book is currently in the illustration stage and due for circulation later this year. I would love the opportunity to have the funding to promote this type of literature that will help students feel comfortable discussing such an important issue. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  11. I would like information on grants available to start programs to stop bullying. Our local school has a terrible bullying problem and has for decades. We are ready.
    Please send info.

  12. I would like to receive information about the grants being awarded concerning bullying and safe schools. I am a teacher and a family/domestic violence mediator (Rule 31 Tennessee). It has been my wish for a very long time to introduce mediation (not peer mediation) into the schools. I personally have been able to use my skills as a mediator to help solve misconceptions and to create an atmosphere of understanding within my school. I also sponsor a club called SPECTRUM which basically follows the Gay Straight Alliance “by-laws”. This club was started by two students. who have different preferences yet are very close friends. It has been a very successful club.

  13. I am completing a character education program focused on teaching students how to peacefully resolve conflicts and effectively intervene with and prevent bullying involving student leadership teams and school-wide commitment. I would appreciate more information on grants that can help fund schools to implement this program beginning in the 2011/2012 school year. Thank you for the article and information! My email is withinthezone@gmail.com
    Debra Reinertson

  14. Hi,
    I would also like some information on how to apply for a grant on anti-bullying.I was a Community Center Supervisor in Cheaspeake Virginia for many years. I moved back home to Boston 6 years ago and would really like to do something within the school ststems to prevent bullying. I grew up in East Boston and experienced many things when I came out at 17 but nothing like the torment that goes on today. We need to gather as much information as possible to create a formidable solution for the hate being taught to the next generation of leaders.Please send me as much information as possible. In the mean time I will create my own online survey and try to figure out the best way to get it out there.
    Thank you so much for all your efforts in changing the way people see eachother.I commend you.

  15. I would like information about obtaining grant money for training or programs on anti-bullying for our elementary schools. I am the school psychologist and would be interested in any information you can provide to me. Thank you

  16. Has anyone received any information regarding instructions on how to apply for the grant monies that are said to be available? I can’t find a link, information on how to apply, or an application anywhere.

  17. We are currently attacking Bullying by offering free workshops to schools, businesses and parents. However, we are interested to find out how to apply for grants for Bullying so we can reach more students, schools and communities. If you can give us the government site to apply for grants for non-profits and private businesses. We have found through our indepth surveys and contacts one-on-one that Bullying and Administrative approach to it are not on the same page. Education, coaching and training is needed in the schools, homes and businesses. Knowledge is power. So please direct us in what we should do to receive funding to help us help others.

  18. I see many requests for information, but has anyone gotten more information? I have done much research online and through other sources, and found one resource to be the best, as it is very close the the source. It can be found online https://www.cfda.gov/ and is close to 6,000 pages! It is a lot of information, yes, but helpful. Just thought I would share. I am in the process of implementing Andi-Bully workshops in the Southern California area, and I too would like to have any specific information about how to apply for grant money to help promote my efforts and eventually push programs into schools. Thanks

  19. We would like more information on grants and training as we have started receiving calls from students being home schooled as well as on spring break being bullied. They haven’t anyone to turn too, and we want to be prepared to help them every way possible! Thanks

  20. Our high school would like to know how to apply for federal grants and training on bullying. Since the Bullying is now a federal mandate, our school district needs funds to implement these mandates. I would appreciate any information concerning these mandates.

    Kathie Franzoy

  21. I am a retired teacher and administrator and recognize the need for more training programs for teachers to recognize and report bullying, for administrators to act on those reports, and for parents to know how to help thier children that are either being bullied or are bullies. Please send information on how I might apply for a grant to provide inservice programs for school districts in our state.

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