New York, NY, May 24, 2012 … In response to new guidelines on harassment, bullying and free expression in public schools released earlier this week by a coalition of civil rights, education and religious groups, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged Education Secretary Arne Duncan to advise schools not to rely on the "deeply flawed" guidelines, which undermine the Department of Education's own guidance on the subject. The League called the guidelines "ill-conceived, unnecessary, deeply flawed and counterproductive."
ADL was invited to join the coalition of groups endorsing the document, titled "Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools," but declined, citing numerous concerns about the guidelines and the mixed message they would send to schools.
In a May 23 letter to Secretary Duncan outlining those concerns, ADL said the guidelines could potentially create confusion among school districts about how to appropriately respond to bullying and were "tone-deaf as to the actual dynamics of real-world bullying."
"The guidelines released by a number of national organizations barely acknowledge current federal and 49 state anti-bullying laws and policies and offer no insights on preventing bullying," said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "They are tone-deaf as to the actual dynamics of real-world bullying in our nation's schools, suggesting that bullying erupts in the aftermath of disagreements over political or religious speech – instead of what actually happens too frequently: the intentional targeting of an individual with less physical or social standing for physical, verbal, and emotional abuse."
The League leaders asserted that, contrary to state laws and the 2010 guidance from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the guidelines issued this week emphasize students' First Amendment rights over the responsibility schools have to create a safe learning environment for all students – especially vulnerable minority, disabled, and LGBT students. "While we agree that students' free speech and religious expression rights are important, we strongly disagree with the guidelines' direct implication that such rights have been given short shrift in current federal and state law and policy and need greater protection," the ADL leaders wrote.
Working to create safe, inclusive schools and communities is a top priority for ADL. The League takes a broad, holistic approach to addressing bullying and cyberbullying by tracking the nature and magnitude of the problem and advocating at the state and federal level for policies and programs that can make a difference.
ADL has developed education and training programs for administrators, teachers and students and offers these programs in schools across the nation, helping school communities do the hard work of attaining and maintaining a healthy climate in which all students feel safe and supported.