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Laws Aim To Tackle Bullies

January 26, 2011

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Charleston Delegate Meesha Poore has introduced a bill in the West Virginia Legislature that would add to the definition of school bullying and require counseling for bullies. The bill's chances for success are unsure, but a federal law might be used to cover some of the same ground.

Jennifer Martin is a special lecturer Women's Gender Studies at Oakland University and an expert on Title IX (nine), the federal law that prevents discrimination in schools based on sex. Although the law is aimed at giving women more access to higher education, Martin says it covers much more than that.

"We have found through case law that Title IX protects against sexual harassment in a variety of ways – comments based on sex and gender; sexual orientation harassment, real or perceived, questioning someone's sexuality, spreading rumors about someone's sexuality."

Martin says a school district is required by law to follow federal civil rights guidelines and have a Title IX coordinator, but she notes many districts do not. As a consequence, many students and parents aren't aware of the protections that are available, she explains.

"Students and parents have a recourse. They have the courts, they have the office of civil rights to lodge a complaint if the school is not putting an end to this type of harassment."

In addition to broad protections and recourse against bullying provided by Title IX, Martin says Title II protects students with disabilities, and Title VI protects against racial discrimination and harassment. Martin says schools also need strong policies and a Title IX coordinator to help resolve problems.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV