Bullying: Analysis shows only 37 percent of school policies protect LGBT kids

When it comes to state anti-bullying laws, Colorado's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids are among the most protected in the country. But individual school district policies are a different story. A policy scan by LGBT advocacy organization One Colorado found that, more than a year after Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado's comprehensive anti-bullying law, just 37 percent of district bullying prevention policies include sexual orientation.

Colorado's law states that bullying is prohibited against any student, including those who are members of so-called "protected classes," which include gay and transgender students. The law requires school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

One Colorado lobbied for the bill, citing research that shows that schools with policies that specifically prohibit bullying of LGBT students make students feel safer than those without them. Last summer, after the law was passed, One Colorado began analyzing district policies to see if they were complying. It was a long process that eventually resulted in collecting policies from 147 of the state's 178 school districts.

One Colorado was looking for three things: a comprehensive anti-bullying policy, and comprehensive harassment and nondiscrimination policies. A bill passed in the state legislature in 2008 added sexual orientation -- including transgender status -- to the list of protected classes under the state's nondiscrimination law, which applies to schools.

In analyzing the 147 policies, One Colorado found:

  • 91 of 147 (62 percent) include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy
  • 90 of 147 (61 percent) include sexual orientation in their harassment policy
  • 55 of 147 (37 percent) include sexual orientation in their bullying prevention policy

"It's disheartening," says Brad Clark, the executive director of One Colorado. If a student got a 37 percent on a test, he says, they'd fail. That only 37 percent of districts have comprehensive anti-bullying policies "shows a failure to really protect our young people."

However, Clark concedes that there are no explicit consequences for schools that don't adopt comprehensive policies. "Theoretically, there are," he says. "This could be part of the accreditation of local school districts, which affects funding. But likely not."

One Colorado has produced a spreadsheet (which is available to download on their website) that categorizes all 178 school districts by color. Green means the district has included sexual orientation in all of its policies. Yellow means there's inconsistency, and red means sexual orientation isn't included at all. White means the district didn't respond.

Denver Public Schools is yellow. "My understanding is that they have comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies but that their bullying policy hasn't been updated," Clark says. "I also understand they're in the process of doing that." (That's exactly what John Albright, deputy chief of staff for DPS, told us when we asked in May.)

One surprise, Clark says, was Colorado Springs. The district, in what's considered a conservative city, is green. "They really took a big step forward, given the stereotypes and how the rest of the state thinks about Colorado Springs," Clark says.

One Colorado hopes its report will spur more districts to follow.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar