Archive for the ‘bullying’ Category

2011 Lege Wrap Up: Anti-Bullying

July 5, 2011

Efforts to protect bullied schoolchildren in Texas have been largely unsuccessful in state legislative sessions past. But with the mounting number of high-profile tragedies across the country in the last couple of years — with some children driven to suicide by relentless bullying — those unsuccessful anti-bullying measures were bound to get a fresh look in the 2011 Texas Legislative session.

TFN tracked three anti-bullying pieces of legislation during the 2011 session. One of those, HB 1942, was a substantial victory in the fight to keep schoolchildren safe. Sponsored by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, the bill won final approval with bipartisan support in the waning days of the regular session and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

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Anti-Bullying Bill: On to the Governor

May 24, 2011

We are happy to report that the Texas House tonight gave final passage to House Bill 1942, which requires public school districts to adopt policies to protect students from bullying. Religious-right groups had opposed the bill’s passage. Here are some highlights from HB 1942:

  • The bill defines bullying in Chaper 37 (Discipline) of the Texas Education Code,
  • It updates the definition of bullying to include that through electronic means (cyberbullying),
  • It provides for the transfer of the student who engages in bullying. Currently, only the target of bullying may be transferred.
  • It allows staff development to include training on preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying.
  • It mandates that each board of trustees of each school district adopt a policy, including any necessary procedures, to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents of bullying.

The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

Texas Senate OKs Anti-Bullying Bill

May 23, 2011

The Texas Senate today passed House Bill 1942 unanimously, yet another step toward protecting children from bullying in the state’s public schools. Because a Senate committee made a technical change to the bill, the bill must go back to the House for approval before heading to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

The Texas Freedom Network strongly supports passage of HB 1942. Religious-right groups oppose the bill, claiming that it will promote homosexuality. Texas Eagle Forum has even bizarrely argued that the bill isn’t necessary because, the group claims, gay and lesbian students aren’t bullied as much as other students are for reasons other than their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The bill, which doesn’t mention sexual orientation, would require public school districts to adopt policies designed to prevent, investigate and report bullying that targets any student.

TFN Insider will keep you updated on the progress of HB 1942 when it gets back to the House.

TX Senate Committee Passes Anti-Bullying Bill

May 19, 2011

Legislative efforts to protect bullied children in Texas schools just passed the Senate Education Committee. The Texas House passed House Bill 1942 on May 4. The full Senate must now approve the bill to send it on to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

If HB 1942 becomes law, it would:

  •  Include the definition of bullying in Chaper 37 (Discipline) of the Texas Education Code.
  • Update the definition of bullying to include bullying through electronic means (cyberbullying).
  • Provide for the transfer of the student who engages in bullying. Currently, only the target of bullying may be transferred.
  • Allow staff development to include training on preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying.
  • Mandate that the board of trustees of each school district adopt a policy, including any necessary procedures, to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents of bullying.

The Texas Freedom Network supports passage of HB 1942. But religious-right groups have opposed such legislation, bizarrely arguing that it somehow promotes homosexuality. Sexual orientation isn’t even mentioned in HB 1942. Yet crass political calculations apparently lead extremist groups like Texas Eagle Forum to oppose any bill that just might have the effect of also protecting gay kids from abuse.

RR Groups Oppose Anti-Bullying Bill

March 2, 2011

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.

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Anti-Bullying Bill Set For Public Hearing

February 25, 2011

Few of us would disagree that we have a duty to keep children safe, and that means we are all invested in ensuring that our schools provide a safe learning environment.

That is why we’re pleased to see that HB 224 — proposed anti-bullying legislation filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin — has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Public Education next Tuesday. If it becomes law, Rep. Strama’s bill would provide educators and school administrators the kind of comprehensive tools they need to stop bullying in its tracks and, hopefully, prevent the kind of unfortunate and tragic cases of teen suicides we have all read about in the past year.

Our friends at Equality Texas can give you a snapshot of the problem, and the reasons why it demands a response from our lawmakers. Surveys conducted by EQTX have shown that 39 percent of Texas students have reported being verbally harassed, and 17 percent reported being physically harassed or assaulted. Equally troubling are the reasons for the abuse, which include race/ethnicity, gender and perceptions about the student’s sexuality. More on this legislation after the jump. Here is just some of what HB 224 would do:

  • Amend the Education Code to allow teachers to receive training in the prevention, identification and reporting of and response to bullying.
  • Expand the definition of bullying to include bullying by electronic means such as computers (Internet/electronic media), cell phones, text messaging, and instant messaging.
  • Expand the definition of bullying to include actions “motivated by a perceived imbalance of power based on another student’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or beliefs or by another student’s association with a third person and based on the third person’s characteristics, behavior, or beliefs”.
  • Except in certain circumstances, mandate that the school district superintendent provide notice to the parent or guardian of the victim of the alleged bullying. This provision also mandates that the school principal inform the victim of their right to not have their parent or guardian notified of the incident.

If you support these kinds of common-sense solutions, you’re not alone. Polling conducted by TFN last year found that 88 percent of Texas voters favored 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.”

In other words, almost all Texans agree that bullying — no matter the reasons for it — should not be tolerated in our schools. This legislation would be an important first step in addressing this critical problem.

What You Can Do
We encourage you to contact members on the House Committee on Public Education to express your support for this legislation. You can find each member’s contact information here.

Here are some suggestions for what you can say when contacting legislators:

  • Bullying is a serious problem in Texas that needs to be addressed immediately.
  • Texans overwhelmingly support requiring schools to prevent bullying, as a number of recent polls have shown.
  • All school children deserve to have a safe space in which to learn.

Lobby for Equality

February 24, 2011

Our friends and partners at Equality Texas have asked us to pass along an invitation to TFN members, and we are more than happy to do so. Equality Texas is hosting a lobby day coming up on Monday, March 7, to push for inclusive policies that protect all children, end discrimination and strengthen relationships.

Here are the details:

Equality Texas Lobby Day: All roads to equality lead to the Texas Capitol

Monday, March 7 (Breakfast and check-in begin at 7:30 a.m.)
Meet at First United Methodist Church Family Life Center (FUMC)
1300 Lavaca Street
Austin, TX. 78701

Registration for Equality Texas Lobby Day is free, but advanced registration is required. A full schedule of activities and registration information can be found here.

And don’t forget, TFN Lobby Day is also only a few weeks away (March 21).

 

(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:

(B)  analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;

Background
This standard was a new addition to the Texas science TEKS in 2009. It originated at the January 22, 2009, state board meeting in an amendment proposed by Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, a self-identified young earth creationist. The original wording of McLeroy’s amendment – approved by the board in January – was as follows:

(B) analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;

At the March 27, 2009, board meeting, Lawrence Allen, D-Houston, moved to strike this standard entirely. In a final appeal to preserve his proposal, McLeroy stated that the purpose of his standard was to argue against:

“…the idea that all life is descended from a common ancestor by the unguided natural processes.

Despite McLeroy’s protestations, Allen’s amendment to strike the standard prevailed by an 8-7 vote, and it was removed from the standards.

However, another of the board’s anti-evolution members, Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, immediately offered new “compromise” language (that was altered slightly through an amendment proposed by Bob Craig, R-Lubbock). Dunbar’s wording – as amended by Craig – was approved by a vote of 13-2. This compromise language was the final version adopted by the board.

Scientific and Pedagogical Problems with Standard

Language referencing “sudden appearance” appears commonly in – and is closely associated with – the intelligent design movement.1 The inclusion of the expectation that students “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance … in the fossil record” parallels the major thesis of a book promoting intelligent design/creationism written by five members associated with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture that has been explicitly targeted at biology teachers 2. Essentially the book, Exploring Evolution, promotes the hypothesis that the Cambrian Explosion, a geological period about 530 million years ago that revealed a great radiation of new animal body forms in the fossil record, can not be explained by current evolutionary science. The book extends this thesis by requiring that an intelligent, supernatural agent was required to create the new animal body forms. None of these hypotheses are supported by scientific evidence (see below).

The intelligent design/creationism thesis that the Cambrian Explosion occurred too “suddenly” to be explained by modern biological science completely ignores  a number of recent advances made in the science of evolutionary-development that describe how animal bodies are made in a genetically modular way, thereby enabling rapid evolution.3 These intelligent design arguments also ignore many pre-Cambrian organisms that show relatedness to Cambrian organisms (see for example 4),  In short, misleading claims about the Cambrian Explosion made in the intelligent design community have been specifically refuted on many detailed grounds and in many different places 5-7.

This part of TEKS 7B should therefore be deemed as an attempt to open the Texas public school educational system to old, refuted, religiously-based, non-scientific intelligent design arguments. It is an attempt to undermine the strong evidence supporting modern evolutionary theory.

Likewise, the expectation that students analyze and evaluate scientific explanations of “stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record” is another use of language that can be traced to biased publications from anti-evolution, intelligent design/creationism proponents. The word “stasis” is used to describe the observation that fossil forms appear fully formed in the fossil record and remain relatively unchanged for long periods of time. In fact, these types of observations are fully compatible with evolutionary science. What other than fully formed organisms could be fossilized, for example? In addition, species that are well-adapted and exist in relatively stable environments would in many cases have the advantage of superior numbers over any organisms that would try to replace them. The predominant species would then be expected to dominate the fossil record over that period of time where its numbers predominated.

That fossils of transitional species (those species that are intermediate in characteristics between more widely separated organisms) are rare is a simple logical consequence of the time it takes the transition to occur versus the time of existence of the ancestor and descendent species. If the ancestor and then later the descendent species are well-adapted and are lucky enough to exist in a stable environments, their total time on Earth can be very long. The transitions on the other hand can occur relatively quickly (in geologic time). The chance of finding a fossil of one of the transitional intermediates can therefore be low compared to finding a fossil of the stable ancestor or stable descendent species. Even though transitional fossils are rare and difficult to find, many transitional fossils species have been discovered by paleontologists. The existence of transitional fossils, as well as the general concept which these fossils support — namely the sequential nature of descent from common ancestors — is so greatly supported by real scientific evidence that the vast majority of biological scientists and paleontologists accept these principles as fact.

There is a clear danger that the “stasis, and sequential nature” part of TEKS (7)(B) will be used to introduce discredited, scientifically falsified accounts from intelligent design/creationist publications that species appear in the fossil record without any transitional fossil evidence. Examples of these types of discredited arguments in intelligent design publications include the textbook supplement, Of Pandas and People, which was the book at the center of the Dover trial 8, and Icons of Evolution 9, which pursues the discredited idea that major phylogenic groups in biology arose without any connection through descent from a common ancestor. In the age of modern biology, the hypotheses that fossil transitions are not evident in the fossil record as presented in “Pandas and “Icons” has been fully refuted by many legitimate fossil transition discoveries. These real discoveries fully support modern evolutionary theory.

Unfounded doubts about the cornerstone of evolutionary theory, namely descent from common ancestors, introduced into students’ learning expectations via the use of intelligent design/creationism language like “sudden appearance” and “stasis, and sequential nature” have absolutely no place in biology classrooms or biology textbooks in Texas or anywhere else.

1 – http://www.intelligentdesign.org/education.php accessed on February 18, 2011 at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture webpage, “The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators” – see, for example, page 15.

2- See Discovery Institute website, http://www.exploreevolution.com/who_is_this_for.php (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

3- Carroll, S.B. 2005 Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo-Devo, Norton and Co. New York

4- Derek E. G. Briggs and Richard A. Fortey, 2005 “Wonderful strife: systematics, stem groups, and the phylogenetic signal of the Cambrian radiation” Paleobiology 31:94-112

5- A detailed analysis of fallacious “sudden appearance” arguments from the National Center for Science Education, http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/sudden-appearance (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

6- A paleontologist’s response to fallacious intelligent design arguments about the Cambrian Explosion, http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/a-paleobiologists-response-to-darwins-dilemma/ (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

7- A listing of problems with intelligent design/creationism’s claims about the Cambrian Explosion and other assertions, http://faculty.smu.edu/jwise/big_problems_with_intelligent_design.htm (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

8- For a critique of the anti-evolutionary theory, pro-intelligent design Of Pandas and People’s treatment of the fossil record, see the National Center for Science Education http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/excursion-chapter-4-fossil-record (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

9- For a critique of creationist-intelligent design Icons of Evolution, see the National Center for Science Education, http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/icons-evolution (accessed Feb. 18, 2011).

How Publishers Can Responsibly Address Standard

To meet this new standard, publishers need not and should not introduce creationist arguments, as they do not meet the requirement that students analyze and evaluate “scientific explanations.”

 

One way for publishers to satisfy this new standard is to include a discussion of evidence for and against the theory of punctuated equilibrium. This idea, first proposed by evolutionary biologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould in 19721, is a scientific explanation for long periods of no evolution (stasis) followed by the sudden appearance of new organisms in the fossil record.

 

Punctuated equilibrium proposes that major evolutionary change occurs when new species arise and that, between these speciation events, many organisms undergo little change.  Evolutionary biologists have long debated whether evidence supports or refutes the theory of punctuated equilibrium.  The fossil record of some organisms does indeed suggest a pattern of stasis followed by bursts of rapid evolution2 but this pattern is not seen in other organisms3.  A review of 58 different studies that examined the theory of punctuated equilibrium across a range of organisms and geological periods concluded that sometimes evolution is gradual and sometimes punctuated—neither pattern is characteristic all of evolution4.  There is considerable disagreement over what processes are responsible for stasis in evolution5.

 

1 Eldridge, N. and S. J. Gould.  1972.  Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to phyletic gradualism.  In T. J. M. Schopf, ed.  Models in Paleobiology.  Freeman, Cooper, and Company,San Francisco.

2 Jackson, J. B. C. and A. H. Cheetham. 1994. Phylogeny reconstruction and the tempo of speciation in cheilostome Bryozoa.  Paleobiology 20:407-423.

3 Chaline, J. and B. Laurin.  1986. Phyletic gradualism in a European Plio-Pleistocene Mimomys lineage (Arvicolidae, Rodentia).  Paleobiology 12:203-216.

4 Erwin, D. H. and R. L. Anstey. 1995.  Speciation in the fossil record.  In D. H. Erwin and R. L. Anstey, ed.  New Approaches to Speciation in the Fossil Record.  Columbia University Press, New York.

5Futuyma, D. J.  1987.  On the role of species in anagenesis.  American Naturalist 130:465-473.

An Appeal for Hope

October 15, 2010

The research compiled by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University in San Marcos is heartbreaking: since 2004, at least six Texas teens have been so tormented by bullying and  abuse at school that they have taken their own lives. Another attempted suicide by jumping from a  two-and-a-half-story balcony.

Some of the students were gay or lesbian (or perceived to be their tormentors). Others weren’t. One Rockdale student shot herself after constant bullying over her weight and physical appearance. A transgender teen from the same town hung herself just the next month. A high school student in Cleburne, harassed repeatedly because of facial scars and a hearing impairment, was reportedly told: “If I had a face like yours, I’d shoot myself.” He went home and did just that.

Today more and more adults are standing up to say, “Enough.” They are calling on lawmakers to pass anti-bullying legislation that helps protect all children from this abuse. And they are appealing to young people — gay and straight — to keep the hope that life gets better. We were especially moved by this video of an openly gay Fort Worth City Council member, Joel Burns, speaking at a council meeting earlier this week.

Religious-right groups continue to oppose legislation that would help protect young people from bullying and abuse. They claim such legislation “promotes homosexuality” to kids.

Some elected officials even encourage schools to stigmatize gay and lesbian children. In 2004, Texas State Board of Education member Terri Leo, R-Spring, insisted that middle school health textbooks portray gay people as “more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use, and suicide.” Fortunately, textbook publishers refused to obey her demand. This year, when state board members revised social studies curriculum standards, another board member — Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands — bizarrely interpreted a particular standard for the high school sociology course as somehow promoting homosexuality and transgenderism. She succeeded in removing the standard.

Texas children deserve far better than politicians promoting their own divisive personal agendas instead of ensuring that schools provide a sound education and protect their students from abuse.

Bullies and the Religious Right

October 8, 2010

The message from Texans was loud and clear in the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s statewide survey last spring: 88 percent of likely voters 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.”

Far-right pressure groups like Focus on the Family, however, seem to believe promoting their anti-gay hate agenda is more important than protecting children — even after the recent suicides of three teenage boys (including one from the Houston area) who had been bullied severely and repeatedly by classmates. Two teens, one 13 and the other 15, hanged themselves. The Houston-area teen, 13, shot himself. But Focus on the Family says laws that seek to protect gay and lesbian students from bullying simply “promote homosexuality to kids.” Focus and other far-right pressure groups have also launched a full-scale media assault on the Safe Schools Improvement Act in Congress.

The Texas Legislature has refused to pass anti-bullying legislation in previous sessions. Last year, Focus on the Family’s Texas affiliate, Liberty Institute, dishonestly attacked an anti-bullying bill (House Bill 1323 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin) as simply a “transgender special rights” bill. In reality, the bill sought to protect all children from bullying. But because it specifically mentioned sexual orientation, pressure groups like Liberty Institute think such common-sense legislation somehow promotes “special rights” for victims of abuse and harassment.

Here’s the reality: for religious-right groups like Liberty Institute and Focus on the Family, opposition to such legislation is important in their hateful campaign to stigmatize and shame gay and lesbian people, even children. Perhaps their versions of the Bible don’t contain such familiar phrases as “Judge not, that you be not judged” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”