Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
July 1, 2011
It’s A Lesson Apparently Too Hard For The Learning
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Tehachapi, Ca., Joins The List Of Unsafe Places To Learn
After eight months of investigation, the Departments of Education and Justice told the Tehachapi Unified School District that they failed to protect Seth Walsh from “persistent, pervasive, and often severe sex based harassment.” Seth Walsh was the 13-year old gay person who last September hanged himself from a tree in his backyard. That was also the month when two other gay teenagers killed themselves because of homophobic bullying: Asher Brown, 13, from Harris, TX, shot himself, and Billy Lucas, 15, from Greensburg, IN, hanged himself from the rafters of his parents’ barn.
A Slap On The Wrist
So what did Education and Justice do to the Tehachapi school officials? They made a deal. The school district will take steps to prevent sexual harassment, respond appropriately to harassment complaints, change its policy and regulations pertaining to sexual bullying, hire a consultant to provide mandatory training on sexual harassment to everybody: students, teachers, and staff, and it will conduct climate surveys to see if there are improvements. Oh yeah, we almost forgot, the district promises to “eliminate the hostile environment resulting from harassment.” That’s it. A little pathetic, don’t you think?
What Does It Take For Schools To Provide A Safe Place To Learn?
The Tehachapi district violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Education Amendments Law. California has its own AB 537, The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. That is 47 and 38 and 10 years of law and Tehachapi just now agreed to pay attention. One of the write-in comments on the Internet about this case proposed suing Tehachapi Unified School District for $35 million as an example to other districts to pay attention. Fat chance. Morgan Hill Unified was fined $1.1 million after five years of litigation. Poway Unified was fined $721 thousand; Visalia $130 thousand; Banning Unified $45 thousand. The list goes on but fines are not the whole story. The California Safe School Coalition estimates that school districts in California lose $39.9 million per year because of absences when students are afraid to come to school. Suing Tehachapi would just add to the list of school districts that didn’t get it. Or, maybe, suing Tehachapi into oblivion would be a tipping point and school districts would actually get serious about providing safe places for learning.
The Dreary Commonness Of Homophobic Harassment
All the cases of homophobic harassment have this in common: harassment took place over a long time, in the case of Seth Walsh, two years; parents of those being harassed complained to school officials; and the school officials deny knowing that harassment took place. But the students know. In case after case investigators uncover that students know the nature and extent of the victim’s homophobic harassment and all other forms of harassment that occur for other types of nonconforming students: race, obesity, religion. Perhaps, Principals and Vice-Principals should have mandatory one-hour walk-abouts every day to see what is happening in their schools’ hallways and playgrounds. Of course, first you would have to teach them to see and hear.
Are There Better Ideas Out There?
When you only have a hammer, all your problems look like nails. When you are an administrator, all your solutions are policies and procedures. But where is the implementation? Does anyone know how to do that? Where would you begin? Maybe the answer to that lies in the answer to this: Where do 13-year olds learn how to hate?
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org