Guidelines to help schools stop bullying, keep free speech
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WASHINGTON — At a press conference on May 22, a coalition of 17 education, religious and civil liberties groups will release new guidelines aimed at helping public schools uphold the First Amendment while combating harassment and bullying.
The press event will take place at 10 a.m. in the Zenger Room at the National Press Club, 529 14th St. N.W., Washington, D.C.
Speakers at the May 22 press conference will include Marc Stern, American Jewish Committee; Charles Haynes, Religious Freedom Education Project; Francisco Negron, National School Boards Association; Kim Colby, Christian Legal Society; and Hoda Elshishtawy, Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools” was organized by the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project and endorsed by American Association of School Administrators; ASCD; Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School; Christian Educators Association International; Christian Legal Society; Hindu American Foundation; Islamic Networks Group and its affiliates; Islamic Society of North America; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Association of Evangelicals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Council for the Social Studies; National School Boards Association; Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
According to the guidelines, students should be able to attend public schools where they are free to share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences while simultaneously attending safe schools that prohibit discrimination, bullying and harassment.
“While these principles are compatible in most instances, sometimes they collide,” says Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee. “The guidelines are aimed at helping school officials balance the need for school safety with the need for free expression.”
National School Boards Association General Counsel Francisco Negron Jr. believes the guidance document will help public school officials navigate a murky area of the law.
“This guidance document, the product of months of collaboration among national organizations, should help public school officials balance the First Amendment rights of students and the student safety concerns associated with peer bullying and harassment. We hope that public schools will rely on it as they make on-the-ground decisions in this area. Public schools can be a shining example of a forum in which constitutional rights are respected and cherished, and where individual dignity and safety is guarded.”
American Jewish Committee, established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work toward a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity. Over 100 years later, AJC continues its efforts to promote pluralistic and democratic societies where all minorities are protected. AJC is an international think-tank and advocacy organization that attempts to identify trends and problems early – and take action.
Religious Education Freedom Project educates the public about the vital importance of religious freedom through events, educational programs and outreach. The project is an initiative of the First Amendment Center, a program of the Freedom Forum, and affiliated with the Newseum. The First Amendment Center’s nonpartisan work supports the First Amendment and builds understanding of its core freedoms through education, information and entertainment. The center does not lobby, litigate or provide legal advice.
Charles Haynes, Religious Freedom Education Project
Marc Stern, American Jewish Committee