By Rick Braatz | GSD Editor
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved an anti-bullying, harassment and intimidation policy, at a board meeting, on April 12.
“The school district’s primary role is to ensure students that it’s a safe learning environment so that they can thrive,” openly gay school board member Kevin Beiser, told around 100 people inside the school district’s Education Center auditorium. “This is an important step to establish the expectation that we … will protect students and create a climate of tolerance, not hate.”
The policy states, “In its commitment to provide all students and staff with a safe learning environment where everyone is treated with respect and no one is physically or emotionally harmed, the Board of Education will not tolerate any student or staff member being bullied (including cyber-bullying), harassed or intimidated in any form at school or school-related events … .”
The policy also includes language that addresses the motivation to bully or intimidate, including race, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression among other characteristics, and requires staff to report bullying and harassment.
The Safe Schools Task Force, established by the Board of Education last October, wrote the policy.
Members of the Task Force include 36 individuals representing a wide variety of different organizations and government bodies, including board member Beiser; Superintendent Bill Kowba; representatives for Assemblymember Toni Atkins and state Sen. Christine Kehoe; Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians & Gays San Diego president Patti Boman; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network San Diego’s Colin Pearce; and the San Diego LGBT Community Center CEO Delores Jacobs, who co-chairs the body.
Jacobs and other Task Force members spoke to the board before it voted on the policy, as did other LGBT community members.
“In these contentious times, we believe with you, that one of the things almost all of us can agree upon is that schools ought to be safe and children need to be free to learn, develop and achieve. We applaud your efforts to that end. We believe this policy is a step in that direction, and we thank you for your leadership, your support and your protection for all students in this school district,” Jacobs said.
Myrna Zambrano, who represents state Sen. Christine Kehoe on the Task Force, read a statement from the elected official:
“Every California student deserves the opportunity to do their very best in school without fear of harassment or bullying. This policy should result in a better learning environment for all students and a safer one for LGBT youth. I applaud Superintendent Kowba, district staff, and especially Dr. Delores Jacobs and all the community partners who worked on developing the policy, and the school board for taking it up. It is long overdue.”
Students of Hoover High School’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) also spoke at the board’s meeting in support of the district’s vote.
“We’ve come here today to inform you of the dangers our community faces because of anti-gay bullying. Many of us suffer daily in that often includes our allies. We need support from our teachers, administrators, family and school community but we don’t always get supported. Sometimes we feel isolated, neglected and traumatized, said 17-year-old Hoover High School GSA president Ingrid Cedeno. “But we stand strong today knowing that San Diego Unified School District is about to adopt an anti-bullying, harassment and intimidation policy.”
Hoover High School student Alfredo Urquieta, 16, and a member of its GSA, spoke about being verbally harassed for years.
“After constant years of harassment, these words became immune to me but that doesn’t mean they didn’t devastate me. I resented myself. Each word thrown at me was slowly killing me. And you know there is only so much harassment one can take. At my freshman year at Hoover, I finally got the strength to come out. And to tell you the truth, it felt good. Yet, harassment still came to me,” Urquieta said. “With the help of this policy, not only will homophobia not be tolerated, but many LGBT students can feel safe in school.”
In addition to passing an anti-bullying policy, the Board of Education approved a resolution in support of Seth’s Law (AB 9), a bill introduced last month by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), that would require all California public schools to establish policies to prevent bullying. The bill is named after Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old Tehachapi, Calif., student that took his life last September after experiencing years of anti-gay harassment in school.
“This is a very important legislation because it speaks to the fact that many school districts in the state have no reporting policies, that there is a real need to ensure that the people in all the schools and school districts have training and the resources they need to support students,” Beiser said.
In terms of San Diego Unified’s new anti-bullying policy, Jacobs, the Safe Schools Task Force co-chair, said the body will now develop a procedure for the district to implement the policy sometime during the 2011-12 school year.