Mapping School Safety: A National Assessment of Anti-Bullying Policies Protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Youth
Methods: We used a mixed-methods approach to achieve the following objectives: 1) Qualitatively examine a national sample of anti-bullying public school district policies and state education laws and code them for three key characteristics: enumerated protections (e.g., sexual orientation and gender identity/expression), professional development, and reporting requirements; 2) Examine implementation of state laws at the district level; and 3) Examine how LGBT student experiences differ based on their district’s policy.
We identified 9296 U.S. public school districts’ anti-bullying policies (70.5% of all U.S. districts) through multiple strategies (e.g., email, web searches, phone); the remaining districts (n=3265) were classified as not having an anti-bullying policy. In addition, we obtained existing anti-bullying state education laws (n=49). All documents were coded for key characteristics, and district policy findings were compared with data from GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey assessing LGBT students’ (n=8158) school experiences.
Results: As expected, we found significant associations between the presence and type of state law and the characteristics of district policies at the local level (Χ2analyses significant at p<.001); however, a considerable number of districts (27.2%) were not in compliance with state anti-bullying laws. Districts in states with laws that included any of the three characteristics of interest were significantly more likely than states with generic laws (i.e., do not stipulate these characteristics) to have policies that included similar stipulations.
Further analyses support the importance of enumerated district policies: LGBT students differed in their reports of biased language, victimization, and reporting incidents based on the presence of enumerated policies in their district (ANOVAs were significant at p<.001, and differences established at p<.01). However, having policies that mandated professional development and district accountability were not related to teacher interventions or reporting bullying incidents. Interestingly, we found that generic policies in many cases fared no better than not having a policy at all. Additional multivariate findings will be discussed.
Implications: This study has important implications for social work policy that addresses school safety for LGBT youth. Since we found that LGBT students in school districts with enumerated policies experience safer school climates, and districts in states with enumerated anti-bullying laws were more likely to provide explicit protections for LGBT students, it is important that state legislatures mandate and enforce adoption of these protections at the district level. Advocacy efforts may need to shift towards developing more comprehensive policies on the state and local levels.