LGBT Bullying Ignored by School PolicyPosted: October 12, 2011 | |
In the wake of yet another teen suicide linked to bullying, bullying that singled out a student for being gay or allegedly being gay, too many school districts continue to ignore that their district policies fail to protect students from LGBT-related prejudice and harassment. Obviously language in a school district handbook isn’t the most important intervention to keep LGBT kids safe.
We need schools prepared to deal with diversity and school personnel who will take real action to protect students. However school policy sets the tone for how schools address difference, discipline problems, and the school culture in general.
Last year the Anoka–Hennepin School District in Minnesota came under scrutiny for their bullying policies and their practice of neutrality toward homosexuality in schools after many students in Anoka-Hennepin district schools killed themselves after LGBT-related bullying. Associated Press writer, Chris Williams describes the situation on Boston.com:
It [the Anoka-Hennepin School District] has found itself caught between gay-rights supporters, who insist that any anti-bullying program must include specific policies aimed at protecting gay youth, and religious conservatives who call that unnecessary and biased toward homosexuality.
The district has told its staff to remain neutral when discussing matters of sexual orientation, while also ordering employees to step in if they learn of any harassment or bullying. [Emphasis mine]
Neutrality is not enough.
When I recently met with my daughter’s school principal to discuss that fact that she had chosen to come out to everyone including her friends at school and their parents, the principal made all the appropriate, district-sanctioned statements about how bullying was not tolerated in her school. She reassured us that our school community is especially tolerant of disabled students and therefore we could expect the children and parents to tolerate a lesbian student. (There are plenty of problems with that comparison, but that’s another post).
I have the utmost respect for our principal and I love my daughter’s elementary school. I know we are very fortunate to send our child to good, generally supportive school; however, neutrality and pat promises of zero tolerance are not going to deal with the reality of prejudice, hate speech, and intimidation that occurs in schools across the nation, even in nice schools like the one we send our daughter to.
I wondered how my local school district would compare with the Anoka-Hennepin district. So, I did some research about our local school district’s policies on harassment, discrimination, and sexual orientation.
Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct – Our Discrimination Policy
What I found is very disturbing. I have excerpted the pertinent sections from both the Student/Parent Handbook and the Code of Conduct. The Superintendent states that these documents: “foster an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others. State law requires each school district to create and implement a code of conduct for students that specifies policies and procedures.”
The sections of these documents that outline discrimination and harassment fail to include sexual orientation as a factor considered when determining
XSD maintains a strict policy of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination. No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability. Any student who believes he or she has been subjected to prohibited discrimination at school or while participating in a school sponsored activity, should promptly report the concern to the student’s principal or to the Deputy Superintendent. . . . [Emphasis mine]
XSD strictly prohibits harassment based on an individual’s gender, color, race, religion, national origin or disability. Harassment, in general terms, is conduct so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, creates an intimidating, threatening, or hostile educational environment. Slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above are wholly inappropriate, violate the District’s equal opportunity and nondiscrimination policies, and may subject the student who engages in such conduct to disciplinary action. . . . [Emphasis mine]
Thus, according to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered.
XSD strictly prohibits hazing, bullying, or intimidating students. Specific definitions of hazing and bullying are in the glossary at the end of the Student Code of Conduct.
The glossary sections that define hazing, bullying, or harassment are general and inclusive enough to include acts that make students frightened for their safety and undermine their ability to learn, but as the policy states above students cannot be subjected to “prohibited discrimination” and harassment is defined at “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above.”
Thus, discrimination and harassment based upon sexual orientation are not identified as actions that would undermine “an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others” per district policy.
The policy on cyberbullying includes the following language:
Misuse of Computers and the Internet Students shall not:
- send or post electronic messages that are abusive, obscene, sexually oriented threatening, harassing, damaging to another’s reputation, or illegal, including off school property if the conduct causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment; or [Emphasis mine]
If we assume that there is a comma missing between “oriented” and “threatening” then we can surmise that messages that are sexually oriented are innately prohibited. The use of the word “abuse” could be interpreted broadly and include hate speech, but only that which includes “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above” (not based on sexual orientation).
Cyberbullying that is “damaging to another’s reputation” would only apply to sexual orientation if one believes that being queer diminishes one’s reputation.
The district’s Human Sexuality curriculum not only does not mention the sexuality of LGBT people at all, but it limits discussion of sexuality to that practiced within marriage. Same-sex marriage is not legal in our state, so that effectively implies abstinence is the only sanctioned possibility for queer people.
At every turn LGBT students are absent in all district policy on discrimination and harassment.
For our child, who at 10 has already been told that God only approves of heterosexuality, there is no articulated protection for her or even an acknowledgement that she exists.
“God made boys and girls differently for a reason” she is told by a child on the playground. Can we really remain neutral about that?
Justin Aaberg’s parents Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that “one form of the bullying their son endured came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.” Justin, a gay fifteen-year old high school student, hanged himself after being bullied. Justin’s story is recounted on an ABC News story about the recent suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.
“School systems need to do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, and not turn their back on them because of their sexual orientation” say the Aabergs.
I couldn’t agree more.