Despite an increase over the past decade in anti-bullying policies and other measures to promote safe school environments, biased language, bullying and harassment continue to be the norm at many U.S. middle and high schools.
That’s according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which released its 2015 school climate survey on Wednesday. The report is an update of the group’s school climate survey from 2005.
“Overall, bullying still persists at unacceptable levels, and the gains of the past ten years throw the more intractable aspects of the problem into higher relief. LGBTQ students still face rates of violence much higher relative to their peers,” GLSEN’s Executive Director Eliza Byard said in the report’s preface.
“Teachers report that they are less comfortable and less prepared to address the harsh conditions faced by transgender and gender nonconforming students. And amidst progress in reducing the use of most types of biased language in schools, racist language remains as prevalent as it was a decade ago,” she continued.
Although students generally feel safer in their schools today than in 2005, LGBT students are still twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to have missed school in the past month as a result of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, the report found.
Of the 1,367 U.S. middle and high school students surveyed, nearly 74 percent reported experiencing some form of peer victimization in the past year. And more than half of the 1,015 teachers surveyed said bullying was a serious problem at their school.
Students were most commonly bullied over their body size or appearance, their actual or perceived sexual orientation, their race or ethnicity, their academic ability and how masculine or feminine they are. Between 2005 and 2015, the survey found no change in students’ personal reports of “biased-based victimization.”
Over half of the students surveyed said they frequently heard sexist remarks and the expressions “you’re so gay” and “that’s so gay” from other students. Four in 10 students reported regularly hearing other homophobic remarks, including “faggot,” “dyke,” and “queer.” Students heard negative remarks about transgender and religious people less frequently.
School staff were more likely to intervene when they heard racist and sexist remarks and less likely to intervene when they heard negative remarks about gender expression and sexual orientation, students reported.
Bullying by teachers and school staff was also covered in the survey. A quarter of students reported hearing school staff make disparaging comments about students’ gender expression. About 22 percent of students heard educators speak negatively about students’ academic ability and 20.6 percent heard sexist remarks.
“Students also reported hearing school staff make homophobic remarks (15.3%), racist remarks (14.4%), negative remarks about religion (14.1%), and negative remarks about transgender people (12.6%),” the report adds.
Overall, the incidence of students hearing biased language at school decreased between 2005 and 2015, with the exception of racist remarks. Schools have become somewhat safer thanks in part to significant increases in Gay Straight Alliances and anti-bullying policies.
Nonetheless, bullying and harassment remain “a significant concern” in U.S. secondary schools, GLSEN concludes.
The report makes the following recommendations to improve school climate for all students:
Increase investment in improving the conditions for learning in our schools, including efforts to eliminate bias-based bullying, to enable educators to do their best work and give all students the best chance for success;
Continue our drive to increase the presence of critical LGBTQ-affirming supports in all schools across the United States, in order to reduce the experience gap that continues to separate LGBTQ students from their peers;
Provide educators with the adequate training and preparation to increase support and affirmation of all of our schools’ most marginalized students, including transgender students and students of color.
“Since 2005, we have seen significant investment in bullying-prevention in the United States, and an unprecedented level of public attention to this serious issue,” Byard said. “It is encouraging to see that we’re making progress. However, it is absolutely clear that we must pay more focused attention to some of the most persistent forms of bias in order to continue to move the needle and improve school climate in America.”