AB 9: It’s Time to Stop Bullying in California

Posted on 16 September 2011

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By Assemblymember Tom Ammiano

Many of us were taught as kids to say “Sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me)” as a way of making us feel better when confronted with conflict but the fact is that words do have tragic consequences. Every day young people in California schools are subjected to discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying based upon real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.  Bullying is an all-too-common problem that affects young people of all backgrounds, particularly in early adolescence. Whether they are directly victimized, many teens have been at some point verbally or physically threatened. Some have witnessed or know of other teens that have been chronically intimidated or physically harmed.

Sadly, the numbers speak for themselves. According to the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey, 24% of 11th graders, 28% of 9th graders, and 33% of 7th graders have been harassed based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability in the past 12 months. This high percentage of bullying has real economic costs – a 2009 study found that because almost 30% of bullied students report missing school at least one day a month, the cost of bullying in California based on sexual orientation alone was, at a minimum, $39.9 million per school year.

Research also shows that the effects of bullying can be pronounced and long-lasting. Several studies show that youth who are bullied are at higher risk of depression, lower social and emotional adjustment, and poorer relationships with peers. Other studies show that those who bully are more likely than their peers to engage in other problem behaviors (e.g. - delinquency, smoking, alcohol use), to have poorer academic achievement, and to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts.  Even youths who have not been subject to violence themselves can come to fear for their own safety if they associate with others who have.

California has taken some steps to address this issue, but we must do more to remedy the glaring gaps in existing law.  Thankfully we have the opportunity to do exactly that with AB 9, a bill that I introduced at the beginning of this year. Known as Seth’s Law in memory of Seth Walsh who took his own life in September 2010 rather than face continuing taunting and threats about his sexual orientation, the bill draws upon tested approaches and best practices to ensure that schools have adequate policies and procedures in place to prevent bullying and to respond to incidents quickly.  AB 9 recently passed the State Senate and is now awaiting Governor Brown’s signature.

Our schools must be safe places to learn and grow for our youth and we need to set clear standards for behavior in schools and act quickly on reports of bullying. AB 9 will ensure that bullying is finally brought out into the open.

No child should believe the solution to being bullied lies in taking their own life.  With prevention, help and support - things do get better.  Seth’s Law may not completely end bullying, but it just may save a child’s life.  Tell Governor Brown to sign AB 9 and put an end to bullying in California.

Click here to read an original article on this legislation when first introduced by the California Progress Report's Dan Aiello.


Tom Ammiano is a California State Assemblyman representing the 13th District in the City of San Francisco.

When your only tool is a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail....or to paraphrase Governor Brown, not every problem merits a new law.

I applaud Assemblymember Ammiano's intent and his objective, but another state law, another regulation and burden on our schools, is not going to fix bullying.

I sincerely applaude Seth's Law.

Unfortunately, a law such as this doesn't fix the problem, it just seeks to subdue it.

If we really want our children to stop bullying the more defenseless children, the children who might unfortunately feel their only redress from bullying is to leave this life at the end of a rope, we should start with ourselves, the adults. We have to set better examples for our children, and we have to shift the focus from the bullies to THOSE THAT ENABLE BULLIES. We can't look at schoolyard bullies and tell them "no" when we can't look our own bullies in the eyes and tell them the same.

This is a matter of parenting, and poor, irresponsible parenting at that. We can all hide behind freedom of speech and religion, and the privacy of a family, and the privacy of parents to raise their children as they see fit, but let's all just come out and say it: Racism, Sexism, Homophobia and generally discriminating against the immutable charactiersitcs of others is ALWAYS WRONG. Nothing good can come of it. Ignorance breeds irgnorance, and one generation's biases pass too quickly to the next, and we as a society have to stop the transmission of parentally-transmitted bigotry.

We cannot hold children to standards against which adults are either incapable or indifferent to holding themselves.

Not every set of beliefs is right, correct, or defensible. Not every parent is a good parent, in fact, some parents are better than others simply because they are better people that other people. People who hate will raise hateful kids (or genuinely good-hearted children with hefty therapy bills).

We need to be better citizens, and call people out when they're talking trash and setting poor examples for children.

We need to grow up, so our children can grow up better.