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Gay students added to anti-bully bill

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Gay students added to anti-bully bill

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reached an agreement on an anti-bullying bill set to be debated today.

Bradenton.com

BY EVAN S. BENN

Posted on Wed, Apr. 26, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - A controversial anti-bullying bill has been changed to appease opponents who want school districts to include protections for gay students.

State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, agreed to allow school districts to list categories of frequently targeted bullying victims when the districts draft their policies.

The move comes after pressure from gay-rights groups such as Equality Florida and from state Rep. Ken Gottlieb, a Miramar Democrat, who argued that categories are necessary to protect all victims and punish bullies.

The bill, which House members will vote on today, would require all school districts to create an anti-bullying policy that includes protections for all students.

School districts that fail to create bullying rules would risk losing state money.

''This is a much more comprehensive plan than anyone has had before,'' Bogdanoff said. ``Everyone has kind of put their arms around it.''

`NOT GOING BACKWARD'

Gottlieb has tried for years to pass an anti-bullying bill that banned harassment based on sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity and other factors frequently targeted by bullies. His efforts were struck down by lawmakers hesitant to pass a bill with gay-rights protections.

Bogdanoff's amended bill does not suggest which categories to list, but it allows districts to include categories if they want.

Districts like Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach will be able to keep their current bullying policies with some minor changes.

The bill also outlines ways for students and teachers to report bullying anonymously, and it prohibits using computers or other technology to harass students.

''I'm happy that we're not going backward anymore,'' Gottlieb said. ``We've finally got to the point where people are realizing that bullying is a major problem in our schools.''

A Senate version, sponsored by Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican, passed the Criminal Justice committee on Tuesday.

Sen. Ron Klein, a Delray Beach Democrat, tacked on an amendment that would give school districts a little extra time to write their new bullying policies. The policies would have to be in place by Dec. 1, not Sept. 1. School district representatives said the earlier date would not have given them enough time to prepare solid policies.

HONORS DEAD TEEN

The bill is called the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, named after a Cape Coral teen who hanged himself last June after enduring years of bullying.

''We're preserving the strongest anti-bullying policies in the state, and those can be used as guidelines for other schools throughout the state,'' said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. ``This is a step in the right direction for all students in Florida.''

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