Anti-bullying law would have sent strong message

Of the failure of N.C. lawmakers to approve a statewide school bullying policy this session, we'll let Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Fayetteville, speak for us. “I think, sadly, the Senate was truly bullied on the bullying bill,” he said of legislation the N.C. House had approved earlier. “Much to the detriment of school children, the politics of bigotry and hate won out.”

He's right. Unfortunately, we in Charlotte could see it coming. That's because a few months ago, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved a beefed up anti-bullying policy, and some of the same forces worked to derail it. The CMS policy, like the one N.C. lawmakers debated as late as last week, included sexual orientation among the characteristics school districts use to identify students who are possible targets of bullying.

That, of course, caused all the fuss. Some conservative and religious groups mounted a vigorous campaign to block legislation that included sexual orientation among the characteristics of students who needed protection from bullying. Critics such as Rep. Mark Hilton, R-Catawba, said they objected because they believe homosexuality is immoral.

They have a right to think so. But no child should be left to the mercy of school bullies for that reason.

Policies should be firm and unequivocal about protecting students from such torment. But too often, school officials and students ignore intimidation of gay students – behavior they would not tolerate against any other student. An explicit policy makes it clear that ignoring such harassment will bring consequences. Studies show that states with explicit school anti-bullying laws have significantly less harassment than states with generic laws.

The legislative debate brought out critics who saw the bill as an effort to indoctrinate students with a certain view about homosexuality. But as we noted when this issue was discussed in Charlotte, no one with good sense and a good heart can believe it's right to bully gays. Even religious groups that consider homosexuality a sin say they love the sinner.

School bullying is no small matter. Bullying affects students' mental and physical health, school performance and, for too many, their ability to become functioning, productive citizens after school.

Sadly, current anti-bullying policies adopted by individual N.C. school systems vary widely and are inconsistently enforced. All students deserve a safe environment to learn. It's disappointing that not enough lawmakers took the opportunity with a strong anti-bullying bill to make sure everyone understands that.