Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller testified yesterday at a Texas House Public Education Committee hearing (archived video of the hearing here) in support of legislation to help schools better protect their students from bullying. Tragically, unrelenting harassment and bullying have led some Texas students — like 13-year-old Asher Brown last September — to take their own lives. Religious-right groups opposed to the bill, however, decided to put politics ahead of protecting Texas students from harm.
Supporters of House Bill 224 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, pointed out that bullying has become a serious problem and that school administrators are practically begging for the training and legal tools they need to deal with it. In her testimony Kathy pointed to a TFN Education Fund poll last year that found overwhelming support among Texans for requiring schools to protect students from bullying. (You can read Kathy’s testimony at the bottom of this post.)
But lobbyists from religious-right groups offered a variety of disingenuous arguments against this common-sense bill. Texas Eagle Forum, for example, argued that bullying is a problem best handled at the local level. But some local school administrators are not handling the problem — Asher’s suicide should have made that clear. Too often administrators simply ignore bullying, excuse it or believe they don’t have enough authority to act effectively to stop it. Asher’s parents, for example, said they repeatedly told school officials about the bullying that tormented their son in the 18 months leading up to his suicide.
But perhaps the most cynical and odious testimony came from Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family. LI’s argumentative and often rambling lobbyist appealed to anti-gay bigotry in his effort to defeat a bill protecting all kids from bullying. (The tragic irony of that strategy apparently escaped him.) He repeatedly insisted that the purpose of the anti-bullying bill was simply to provide “special rights” to “homosexuals” and the transgender community. Then later yesterday, the same lobbyist actually mocked the bill’s supporters, boasting that the bill would fail to win legislative approval — as if the issue were simply a political contest rather than a serious effort to protect students from harm.
The House Public Education Committee left the bill pending for now.
Here is Kathy’s written testimony from the hearing:
I’m Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization of 45,000 religious and community leaders who support religious freedom, civil liberties and public education.
My two daughters attend public schools here in Austin. Like other parents, I know that bullying is a serious problem in Texas schools. And I strongly believe that all schoolchildren deserve a safe place in which to learn. But it’s clear that too many students today are burdened not just by heavy textbooks, but also by harassment and violence at the hands of their peers. And too many administrators and teachers apparently lack the training they need to identify and protect those students who need their help.
Last year we asked the national polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to survey Texans across the state on the issue of bullying in Texas schools.
What we found confirms that House Bill 224 represents basic common sense to the vast majority of Texans. In fact, 88 percent of Texans said they support requiring public schools to protect all children from bullying, harassment and discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay.
We found that overwhelming support across ideological lines: 94 percent of self-identified liberals and moderates, 82 percent of self-identified conservatives and 81 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans said they supported such a requirement.
In short, an overwhelming majority of Texans agree that bullying — no matter the reasons for it — should not be tolerated in our schools. This legislation would be an important step forward in addressing this critical problem.