November 19, 2009, was “Kick a Jew Day” at Naples (Fla.) Middle School. School officials found out about the event  only after a child informed an administrator that she had been assaulted. Despite its name, not all of the teenagers attacked that day were Jewish. But ten students were subsequently suspended for their involvement.
On the nation’s other coast, students at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas, Calif., observed “Kick a Ginger Day” on November 20. According to press reports , students organized the event on Facebook and proceeded to verbally abuse or beat up seven of their classmates. Each of the students attacked had red hair, freckles and pale complexions. The school nurse treated one child for bruises and other injuries.
Investigators in both cases say a 2005 episode “South Park” inspired the students’ actions. Ironically, that installment of the adult cartoon show was intended as a parody of intolerant attitudes. But younger viewers apparently missed the joke.
These acts of bullying spawned international headlines. Yet beneath all the sensationalism lies an important truth: Bullies target peers whom they see as somehow “different.” This may seem obvious, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find this reality reflected in many state laws designed to address bullying.
Florida’s law, for example, doesn’t acknowledge that religious differences (and biases) can lead to tensions between students and place religious minorities at higher risk for bullying, i.e. “Kick a Jew Day.” Nowhere in that law — hailed widely  as model legislation — is intolerance identified as a cause of bullying.
Emerging research suggests that bullying laws with specific references to characteristics such as religion, sexual orientation and race — called “comprehensive safe schools policies” — actually reduce bullying for students most at risk. GLSEN , for example, has found that these policies reduce verbal abuse, harassment and violence endured at school by LGBT students. That reduction is critically needed: More than 85 percent of gay teens are verbally harassed in school. Almost half report physical harassment.
If we want to get serious about bullying, we have to get serious about teaching students to respect the ways in which we are all different. As Beth Reis of the Safe Schools Coalition told Teaching Tolerance magazine earlier this year , “Anti-bullying education in the absence of prejudice-reduction education will reduce bullying only in the presence of adults and will never get at the underlying problem.