Among the many issues we are working on this session in Springfield this year is a measure that helps create a safe environment for all students in our public schools. House Bill 2547, if it becomes law, will make it illegal for a school to bully or otherwise discriminate against students because of their disability status, race, religion or sexual orientation. The bill passed unanimously (17 to 0) out of the Judiciary I - Civil Law Committee of the Illinois House this week.

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that one-third of U.S. students experience bullying, some as victims and others as perpetrators. Bullying has serious consequences for the victims, who are more likely to miss school, suffer from depression, and have self-esteem. Thoughts of suicide are more common among victims of bullying.

Bullying involves an imbalance of power in which the victims feel that they do not have the strength or support to stop the harassment they experience and bullies believe they have the upper-hand. Young people who are perceived as unusual are often the ones victimized, such as children who have a disability, racial minority youth and lesbian or gay students. See, for example, this publication from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - "Bullying Among Children and Youth with Disabilities and Special Needs" . See also the resources from Mental Health of America.

This bill will provide another important state law remedy for students whose schools allowed or even encouraged or participated in their harassment. We hope that the existence of such a remedy will encourage schools to take proactive steps to prevent youth harassment from happening in the first place. We hope this law will soon become law in Illinois.

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