Student leaders from across Pennsylvania gathered in Harrisburg Thursday to advocate for the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, HB 156. Joining a myriad of education and community organizations in support of the PASS Act, dozens of Pennsylvania youth attended the House Education Committee hearing on bullying and suicide. Immediately following the students joined the bill’s primary sponsor, Representative Dan Truitt (R-156), in a press conference emphasizing the importance of the legislature adopting the bill.
Speaking at the press conference were several student leaders, including Faith Elmes of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Assistant Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, Jason Landau Goodman of the University of Pennsylvania, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, and Hanover High School student Zachary Terrazas. Parent and safe schools activist, Tammy Simpson also spoke. A KSV post will follow when the PASS Act press conference is posted online as well as photos of students rallying in the Capitol Rotunda.
At the House Education Committee hearing on bullying and suicide, legislators brought attention to the lack of a comprehensive school bullying law, and the severe consequences of this absence. Representative Kathy Rapp (R-65), the Subcommittee Chair on Special Education, presented a very emotional personal account of her experiences with bullied adolescents. Representative Mike Carroll (D-188), who represents the Pittston area, spoke about the loss of two young students to suicide in his district last September.
Mike Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), testified in support of the PASS Act, stating that it provides, “…a needed definition of cyber bullying and creation of a mandated reporting structure—to provide our students with greater protections under these changed circumstances.” The Anti-Defamation League also submitted testimony in full support of the PASS Act.
The PASS Act is the leading safe schools legislation in Pennsylvania with nearly 80 cosponsors – the most cosponsors of any safe schools bill in Pennsylvania history. The bill will create a clear reporting mechanism for incidents of bullying, effective tools to address school violence, and training for educators to prevent harassment. Pennsylvania has one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the country, according to a 2011 report by the US Department of Education.
There is overwhelming community and student support for the PASS Act across Pennsylvania, including from the Association of School Psychologists of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, and Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania. Over 40 Pennsylvania mayors have joined Mayors for Safe Schools in support of the PASS Act including the mayors of Pittsburgh, Gettysburg, Milton, and Chambersburg. Faith leaders from Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish congregations have signed the Clergy for Safe Schools open letter to legislators in support of the PASS Act.
The time is now for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to address the issue of school bullying. Everyday that action is not taken, students will suffer the consequences of unrelenting harassment. Students have the right to a safe education, but without effective policies in place, the cycle of violence will continue.