About 200,000 California high school and middle school students are victims of harassment or bullying every year due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation, says a study released Tuesday by the California Safe Schools Coalition. The Safe Place to Learn study found that widespread bullying has dangerous academic, health, and safety consequences for students.
"When 200,000 students are suffering the devastating consequences of harassment each year, schools can't ignore the problem any longer," Molly O'Shaughnessy, director of the California Safe Schools Coalition, said in a statement. "This is an epidemic in California schools that needs immediate attention from state and local school officials."
Harassment victims are are three times more likely than other students to miss school because they feel unsafe and more than twice as likely to be depressed, to consider suicide, or to make a plan for suicide, the study found. In addition, two in every three LGBT students reported harassment based on sexual orientation, and 47% of LGBT students experienced repeated harassment. Almost half of their peers responded that their school is not safe for gay and lesbian students.
California is among nine jurisdictions with laws against discrimination or harassment in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Last week the state settled a lawsuit brought against the Morgan Hill School District by six students who complained of harassment and discrimination. As part of the settlement, school staff will take part in a mandatory annual training on issues of harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The study added that students who are familiar with a school policy prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation are 25% more likely to feel safe at school. Students who say their teachers step in when they hear name-calling based on sexual orientation are 35% less likely to be harassed because of sexual orientation and 9% more likely to feel safe at school.