It is one of the most important reports that the State Department of Education produces.
It was supposed to include recommendations for how to create safer school environments.
It WAS DUE February 1, 2012…almost fifteen months ago!
Where is it?
Although Connecticut is learning the hard way that lawyers, with no classroom or education background, don’t make the best education leaders, it’s impossible to believe that Governor Malloy’s Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, and his senior leadership team fail to understand that creating a safe school environment is one of the most important educational issues of our time.
At the very least, we would expect that as lawyers, these “education leaders” would appreciate the need to follow the law. But these days, even that appears to be a reach.
The fact is that parents expect and demand that our state, the Department of Education and our schools are doing everything possible to keep our children safe. It is especially understood that a safe and healthy school environment is the single most important element in creating successful learning environments.
It is also the law in the State of Connecticut.
Although some elected officials can’t seem to get enough of the limelight on school safety issues since the nightmare of Newtown, some of our most dedicated elected officials have made creating a safer school environment a top priority for years.
Connecticut’s initial school bullying law dates back to 2002. It was passed following the tragic suicide of a Meriden student who killed himself after being bullied. The law was significantly expanded in 2007 and included additional responsibilities for the State Department of Education including a requirement that the Commissioner of Education submit a Bullying Policies in Connecticut Schools report on February 1, 2010. (See http://www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/bullying/SDE_bullying_report_02-01-10.pdf)
Reading news headlines over the past few weeks, one might think today’s leaders are coming to the school safety issue for the first time. However, in July 2011, Governor Malloy signed Public Act 11-232, An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying laws.
This comprehensive new law was called one of the most important school safety initiatives in the nation.
The legislation required schools and districts to develop “safe school climate plans,” it established deadlines for reporting, investigating, and notifying parents about bullying incidents, it prohibited retaliation against those who report bullying (i.e. the Torrington situation) and required school officials to notify police when they believe bullying conduct constitutes a crime.
The law further required that no later than February 1, 2012, the Connecticut State Department of Education submit a report on “the number of verified acts of bullying in the state, an analysis of the responsive action taken by school districts and any recommendations it may have regarding additional activities or funding to prevent bullying in schools and improve school climate.”
For reasons beyond comprehension, it appears that Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, never released the report.
At a legislative public hearing on this major safe schools legislation, those who spoke or wrote in support of the legislation included Attorney General George Jepsen, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, State Representatives Mary Mushinsky and Catherine Abercrombie, State Senator Edith Prague, the Executive Director for the CT Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the Legislative Analyst of the African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC), the state’s Victim Advocate, the Connecticut Education Association, CT Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), CT Association of School Psychologists (CASP), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT) , Governor’s Partnership to Protect CT’s Workforce , Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Family Equity Council , Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, CT Psychological Association and dozens of students, parents and school administrators who recounted their own experiences with bulling and the effects of bullying.
The legislation passed multiple committees, the Connecticut State Senate and the Connecticut House of Representatives
As the Vice President of the United States, Joe Bidden, would say…it was a “Big F***ing Deal.”
But the vital report required by Public Act 11-232 was never forthcoming.
Yet the law required the report be given to the Legislature.
And the report would certainly have contained vitally important information.
But the report is nowhere to be found!
Making the whole situation even more disturbing is the fact that just last week, with extraordinary bipartisan fanfare, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly passed and signed into law Connecticut’s response to the Newtown tragedy.
In addition to what is being described as the nation’s toughest gun control law, the measure included a series of provisions designed to create safer school environments.
Leading the way is Section 89 of the new gun control and school safety bill. It seeks to strengthen Connecticut’s anti-bullying and school climate laws by requiring the State Department of Education to do more to determine what schools are doing, identify best practices, to provide training to school districts and generally ensure that schools are doing everything they can to create safer learning environments for their students.
And the cornerstone of that new effort is?
(You can guess what’s coming)
The report that the State Department of Education was supposed to produce on a biennial basis must now be produced on an annual basis.
The VERY REPORT that the Governor and General Assembly are expecting to use on an annual basis to track the school safety elements of this new legislation is the VERY REPORT that Commissioner Pryor failed to produce despite the law requiring him to do so.
All the speeches, all the reporters, all the cameras, all the publicity and neither the Governor nor his Commissioner of Education bothered to admit or explain how it is possible that Commissioner Pryor and the Malloy Administration failed to fulfill the existing law on creating a safer school climate.
The President of the United States is coming to Connecticut to get in on the act. He will undoubtedly use Connecticut’s new law as a clarion call for action in Washington.
Let’s just hope that no one tells him that inside this new law are elements of the very problem that people find so frustrating. As we have all come to recognize, it doesn’t do any good to have strong laws, if you have leaders who are unable or unwilling to enforce those laws.
So I ask again…Commissioner Pryor, where is the State Department of Education’s mandated report on school safety and bullying and why wasn’t it released, as legally required, no later than February 1, 2012?