Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC) is proud to announce the introduction of the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, or PASS Act, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives: a landmark moment in the battle against bullying in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The PASS Act, independently drafted by students in collaboration with key stakeholders in the educational community and state legislature, aims to provide critical updates to Pennsylvania’s notoriously weak anti-bullying law. Striking bullying at its core, the PASS Act would promote prevention and appropriate remediation of bullying incidents with educators and school staff, along with raising conscientiousness of cyberbullying that takes place within schools’ jurisdiction. The legislation would provide a clear and accessible way to report incidents and put in place more practical definitions of bullying. More than a dozen states have adopted similar legislation in recent years including Arkansas, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

The bill was introduced on Sept. 21, by Rep. Dan Truitt, an alumnus of West Chester University. A member of the House Education Committee, Rep. Truitt has been a vocal proponent of bolstering the quality of education in Pennsylvania. Bullying in Pennsylvania is being seen as more severe and pervasive – with the deaths of students relating to extreme bullying becoming more visible – such as Joshuah Delos Santos, 13, of Nanticoke, Pa. last week. There is widespread and bi-partisan support for the PASS Act in the General Assembly. Mayors across the state who have signed onto the PASS Act principles include Mayor Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh and Mayor Troxell of Gettysburg.

For Rep. Truitt, the introduction of the PASS Act is personal.

“I was bullied in grade school and middle school. I dreaded gym class, bus rides, and any other time when there would not be close adult supervision. I was discouraged from participating in extra-curricular activities and spent a lot of time alone. Children learn more when they enjoy school. The victims of bullying can’t enjoy school. If this legislation can help children with certain attributes to get more joy out of childhood, it will be a very good thing for all.”

Pennsylvania’s first anti-bullying policy, passed in 2008, has come under fire in the past for omitting several key components of effective safe schools policies. In many Pennsylvania schools, students and teachers are unaware of their school’s own policy on bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment. The current law stands as a well-intended but inadequate guide for school districts’ anti-bullying efforts, requiring that districts craft and uphold a policy, but not incorporating important details of what such policies should include. With limited and vague definitions in the current state law, thousands of Pennsylvania students experience bullying every day without the necessary support and solutions.

“The legislation is designed to increase reporting and awareness of bullying without putting a huge, new burden on education administrators or professionals. I see no down-side to it,” Truitt said.

Bullying is widely under-reported: as students may be unable, unaware, or intimidated to do so or feel that reporting would not help them. A report issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2009 indicates that 19 percent of Pennsylvania students were bullied on school property in the preceding year, with 10 percent of Pennsylvania students stating they had been involved in a physical altercation on school property.

“Bullying is a serious form of violence which deeply impacts the social and academic development of young people.”

Pennsylvania students are distressed everyday in our schools without the effective policies to make it better. Too many young people in Pennsylvania have chosen to end their lives to escape this type of violence. It is critical that the Pennsylvania General Assembly review and adopt the PASS Act at full speed ahead,” PSEC Executive Director and University of Pennsylvania student Jason Landau Goodman said.

Numerous studies have found that targets of bullying and harassment can experience lower psychological well-being, absenteeism, and decreased academic performance – while aggressors can develop into adults who promote domestic and sexual violence, criminal behavior, and discrimination.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, visit www.pasafeschoolsact.com.

Jason Goodman is the PSEC Executive Director and a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at  jgoodman@pennsec.org.

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