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Friday, Sep 02 2011 06:34 PM

Seth's Law anti-bullying bill heads to governor

BY jorge barrientos Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

The state Senate, following the Assembly, has approved Seth's Law, a bill named in memory of a 13-year-old Tehachapi boy who committed suicide reportedly after being bullied in school for being gay.

The bill, named after Seth Walsh, now moves to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk to potentially be signed into law. It would create an anti-bullying system at all California schools by creating anti-harassment policies and programs in campuses that don't have them already.

It passed the Senate 24-14 late Thursday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Wendy Walsh, Seth's mother. "I am truly honored. Seth would be very honored. I really hope the governor signs it."

State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, voted yes while state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, voted no.

Fuller said Friday she believes schools are burdened already with too many "one-size-fits-all" state laws, and local districts should be making the calls.

"That's why we have school boards and superintendents," said Fuller, former Bakersfield City School District superintendent.

A year ago this month, Seth Walsh hanged himself in his backyard. He left a suicide note expressing anger at his school "for bringing you this sorrow." And just more than two months ago, federal officials announced Tehachapi Unified School District failed to investigate or respond appropriately to the bullying of Seth.

Days later, Wendy Walsh filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the district, stating that ongoing harassment of Seth was common knowledge by school staff, they did little to stop it, and because of the negligence, Seth hanged himself. That suit in ongoing.

Seth's Law would make schools provide bullying complaint forms on their websites, give schools a timeline to investigate and resolve complaints and have them post policies throughout campuses. It would go into law in July 2012.

"Public schools have tremendous power and responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment," said James Gilliam, director of the Seth Walsh Students' Rights Project at the ACLU of Southern California, in a statement. "Better school procedures and policies to prevent and address bullying will make a safer environment for students who are suffering."

Gilliam's Seth Walsh project is an initiative also aimed at combating bullying and discrimination in California schools, particularly against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.

Seth's Law is authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and co-sponsored by such groups as Equality California, ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

Anti-bullying advocates say the law is an important step forward in ensuring schools have the knowledge and tools they need to prevent bullying. Officials at the governor's office did not immediately return calls for comment.

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