By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
It was a week of big bills passed over the last several days as legislators in both the District and federal government pushed through landmark bills addressing the environment and prison reform. But a bill that may have gone under the radar of many was a bill that provides further protections for children in schools, authorities said.
The Council of the District of Columbia voted unanimously to approve the School Safety Omnibus amendment Act of 2018, which would require schools to implement policies to prevent and respond to sexual abuse by adults, and sexual harassment and assault among students, according to a statement from David Grosso’s (D.C. Council At Large) office.
Grosso spearheaded the legislation through the council.
“In just the past year, several incidences of sexual assault – whether perpetuated by students or by adults against students – have occurred here in the District of Columbia, in both traditional public and public charter schools. It was upsetting enough to learn of these incidents, but in too many cases we also learned that the school’s’ response was inadequate. Cases, were mishandled. Victims, rather than the perpetrators were punished. Claims were mocked,” Grosso said. “Through performance oversight hearing held this year, I grew more concerned that school leaders had not addressed this violence with appropriate urgency.”
Statistics show that School Sexual violence is a serious problem at schools.
According to data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Report In 2017, 7% of high school students had ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to. The percentage of students who were ever forced to have sex did not change significantly from 2007 through 2017.
Also the Associated Pressed released a series of articles reporting that there were approximately 17,000 sexual assault cases filed in K-12 institutions nationwide between 2011-2015.
“We’re really excited about the bill,” said Aubrey Edwards-Luce, Senior Policy Attorney at the Children’s Law Center in D.C. “ We’re happy to have work with Council Member Grosso.”
“This bill has two parts one addressing seuxal abuse by school employees and another part that’s about about educating students. Those two parts were combined and we are excited about both of these things.”
“We’re excited because there’s now a mandate for students to have age appropriate education about what the warning signs are and how to respond.”
“Safe Shores – The DC Children’s Advocacy Center testified in support of the “School Safety Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018,” said Deputy Director of Safe Shores Twana S. Sherrod, in a statement to the AFRO. “Effectively implemented, this legislation will safeguard the wellbeing of D.C. students by ensuring they are better protected from the crime of sexual abuse while in school, and by helping school faculty and staff recognize and respond to young people experiencing abuse in or outside of school.”
“The School Safety Omnibus Amendment Act is a necessary next step to protect kids in D.C., and to show kids that nothing matters more than their safety.”
Many organizations are happy that the bill also addressed an issue at schools called “Passing the Trash.”
”It’s this phenomenon where people who are being investigated are pushed off into another school district before any action happens,” Edwards-Luce explained to the AFRO. “This is an issue that we’ve seen here. We are glad that Grosso took that into consideration and that our bill goes beyond the national best practices.”
Edwards-Luce pointed out that these crimes impact vulnerable communities on a larger scale.
“One of the things I’m excited about as an African American woman who has many clients who are African American, this disproportionately impacts students of color and particularly females of color. And it’s not always just sexual abuse. It’s also instances where students are being physically and emotionally abused and neglected”
While leaders are enthusiastic about the passing of the bill, the real victory will be in the implementation of the law District wide.
“Next, what will matter most is whether or not this bill is effectively and swiftly implemented,” Sherrod said. “A culture shift is required within schools to ensure that all adult staff take responsibility for preventing and responding to child sexual abuse.
“Disturbingly, research demonstrates that up to 25% of child sexual abuse incidents that are identified by professionals are never reported. School staff must receive the best possible training on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. School administrators must demonstrate to their staff that preventing and responding to child sexual abuse is a critical priority. Any prevention and intervention policies will mean nothing without proper implementation.”
Up next, the bill will go before the Mayor Muriel Bowser for final approval.