[UPDATE]: Sen. Candelaria’s Carols Vigil Memorial Act passed the full Senate on Tuesday, March 3, on a 32-0 vote.
With all the ongoing controversy about high-stakes testing and corporate education profiteering it’s important to remember the other serious struggles many of New Mexico’s students face every day.
Bullying is one such problem.
According to Equality New Mexico, over 50,000 incidents of bullying and harassment go unreported in New Mexico’s schools every year. Further, 10,400 students in New Mexico’s schools miss school each month because they feel unsafe.
Clearly, bullying and harassment are serious problems affecting the educational outcomes of many students in our state. Two State Senators are carrying bills this session to help stem this rampant problem.
Senator Bill Soules (himself an educator) is sponsoring the Safe Schools for all Students Act (SSASA) this year, a bill that would require “the Public Education Department (PED) to develop and promulgate rules that require school districts to develop and implement bullying prevention policies and programs.”
Here’s how Sen. Soules described the need for this bill to KRWG:
The ‘Safe Schools Bill’ is sponsored by Democratic State Senator William Soules (Dist. 37). Soules is a teacher at Oñate High School in Las Cruces, He says in his profession he sees the need for bullying prevention programs everyday.
“When you have a student that has been bullied or picked on all the time, what happens is that they go into their shell, they are more likely to be absent, they don’t’ participate. I teach psychology, and we know that the stress hormones in your brain goes up, because of the stress of being bullied, your learning goes down.” Soules says, “A year or two ago, we had a big instance where there was a bunch of online bullying going on, and you see people who are afraid wandering the halls, and again when they are afraid they’re less likely to come to school, because that’s where it’s happening and we can’t educate them as teacher.”
Sen. Soules says the bill would also track when and where bullying occurs in New Mexico schools, to better understand how prevention programs can adapt to meet the need.
Sen. Soules’ bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee this morning — it passed, but on a party-line v0te with every Democrat voting in favor and every Republican voting against.
Sen. Soules is part of a larger movement in New Mexico to reduce bullying and harassment, a movement that’s made major strides in recent years and has ramped its efforts during the current legislative session.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria is also carrying an anti-bullying bill this session. The Carlos Vigil Memorial Act, named for a New Mexico teenager who committed suicide in 2013, has already made it through two Senate committees. From the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Candelaria, 28, the first openly gay man elected to the Legislature, said he was bullied as a middle-school student.
His bill would create a board of directors, seek private funding for bullying prevention programs and operate from a base on The University of New Mexico campus.
The goal is to raise public awareness to end bullying, Candelaria said.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 7-0 to move the bill forward after listening to Jacqueline Vigil and Carlos’ grandmother, Dolores Marquez, talk about a life cut short.
Marquez cried when she told the senators of a conversation she had with Carlos shortly before his death. He assured her that everything was fine.
Carlos wanted to be a lawyer and a politician. The anti-bullying legislation in his name is Candelaria’s tribute to him.
The movement to end bullying in New Mexico’s schools is being spearheaded by a group of organizations including Equality New Mexico, the Southwest Women’s Law Center, and the Santa Fe Mountain Center.
Those groups have launched the “New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative,” with the intention of helping to make “New Mexico’s public schools safer and more beneficial for all students, especially for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming.”
Here’s how EQNM describes the initiative’s goals:
- Conduct public education and outreach activities to create a greater understanding of Safe Schools practices and culture.
- Build momentum for statewide, systemic changes in how we approach bullying (violence) prevention and mitigation in the schools, including monitoring, reporting, and accountability.
- Adoption and implementation of model transgender and gender nonconforming student policy statewide.
- Provide model policy development and implementation support for New Mexico’s public schools.
Pledge your support for this important campaign by visiting their website HERE.