Groves student speaks in Washington about bullying

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 3, 2012

 Rachael Stein, 16, of Beverly Hills stands with Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Stein, a junior at Groves High School, attended the fifth annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., to discuss anti-bullying policies with legislators.

Rachael Stein, 16, of Beverly Hills stands with Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Stein, a junior at Groves High School, attended the fifth annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., to discuss anti-bullying policies with legislators.

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BIRMINGHAM — While many students around the United States sit in classrooms learning about civic engagement, 16-year-old Rachael Stein is living it. The Groves High School junior recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she met with legislators to discuss two bills that could help put an end to the bullying epidemic that’s been plaguing schools across the country for years.

Stein, who lives in Beverly Hills, was selected to attend the fifth annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit as a student representative of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Attendees participated in workshops where they learned about the federal legislative process and developed skills to advocate for safe schools in every community.

The participants in the summit also met with their elected officials about the importance of safety in schools, specifically promoting two bills: the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require all schools to apply comprehensive policies to prevent bullying and harassment in a variety of areas, including race, religion, sexual identity and more, as well as require schools to take proactive measures to prevent bullying and maintain data reports regarding incidents of bullying in their educational community.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act would protect the rights of students from the standpoint of sexual identity and orientation, similar to the way Title IX protects students on the basis of gender. The act would allow a student to take legal action against the school if it could be proven that the school knew of a situation of discrimination or harassment and did nothing to remedy it. It also would apply to perceived sexual identity or orientation, bringing an end to the casual and inappropriate use of anti-gay slurs, even in cases where the victim is not a homosexual.

Stein met with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Gary Peters and other legislators to discuss why the bills are so important to protect students and bring an end to bullying that can not only hinder the educational process, but potentially harm a student physically or emotionally.

“These bills are very inclusive for students from every angle — race, religion, age, sexual identity,” said Stein. “It’s very important because many states now have an anti-bullying policy, Michigan being one of them, but they’re often very weak. So certain groups of students can be systematically ignored.”

Stein is no stranger to advocacy work. She said she first became involved with student safety issues when she was an eighth-grader at Birmingham Covington School in Bloomfield Hills. It was then that she came out a gay student, and helped to organize a Day of Silence event at her school where students could stay silent for the day to stand up against anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools as part of a national campaign.

Once she reached high school, Stein was a speaker at the Department of Education and Department of Justice’s Anti-Bullying Panel in spring of 2011, and she was a speaker at the American Federation of Teachers Union Conference on Bullying and Diversity in Schools. She said these experiences, along with her recent trip to Washington, have only furthered her interest in political science and economics. She said she plans to apply to Harvard and Yale next year to study these areas.

“I am very proud that she was able to attend the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. She learned what and how lobbyists get bills to the floor, and being able to share insight directly with policy makers was exhilarating for her,” said Stein’s mother, Cecilee Stein, in an email. “I am delighted that she was able to have this type of experience and interaction, which is invaluable for growth and a wonderful extension of learning.”

“GLSEN was proud to bring Rachael to Washington, D.C., so she could share her personal experiences of bullying and harassment in school with U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Gary Peters,” said Andy Marra, public relations manager for GLSEN. “Rachel’s story and her appeal for lawmakers to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act will undoubtedly make a difference for students in Michigan and across the country.”

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