Monday, January 26, 2009

My statement to the Fayetteville School Board

The following statement is the exact statement I attempted to deliver to the school board. The board president, Susan Heil, would interupt me with reminders of the time limit of 5 minutes. I had timed my statement previously and it was 3 minutes in length. When that tactic did not work, she began to talk over me when I got to the part referring to the federal lawsuit they now face based on anti gay harassment toward a student based on the perception he was gay. We learned that the district never complied with their promise to the office for civil rights to correct the sexual harassment toward students based upon sexual orientation, real or percieved. They turned off the microphone while I was trying to finish and another said he was calling "the officers." Following this post I will include the press release we were compelled to release due this school's refusal to address the hostile learning environment our lgbt children face daily.

Fayetteville School Board Statement

Gabi Clayton, a mother whom I have worked with for over a decade now, lost her son, Bill, at the age of 17. Bill had endured harassment and discrimination at school based upon his identifying as bisexual. He was assaulted in a hate crime for that reason. After Bill died, Gabi found a notebook of her son’s and in it he wrote a question, “will it always be like this?”

I now come before you as a concern citizen of this community, as a mother, grandmother as well as one who is disappointed and dismayed as I hear from many students in this district and their families regarding the ongoing failure to halt bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence toward children who are viewed to be different. I now ask the same question of this board what Bill had asked, Will it always be like this?

The federal funding for this school district is now at a high risk of being suspended and I will quickly explain why.

On December 2, 1996 our son, William, became a victim of an anti-gay assault during school. William was 16 at the time. Over a decade ago I pleaded with this board to implement and enforce specific policies. Policies such as the inclusion of real or perceived sexual orientation and real or perceived gender identity that forbade harassment and discrimination for students and employees. Another was a crystal clear policy of always reporting to appropriate law enforcement agencies any and all threats and or acts of violence by either students and or employees. No exceptions. I was told over and over that there are already broad policies that address this problem. Those policies did not protect our son and they continue to fail the students of this district.

The intention of such policies are to ensure a safe learning environment for all students who attend school in this district. The school board at that time did not take the crucial action necessary, and we were forced, as parents, to seek other measures that would secure a hostile-free learning environment for our son and all who followed. The two venues left for us were to file a federal lawsuit or file a title lX complaint. The later would have far reaching implications for students in all public educational institutions who endure this form of sexual harassment and discrimination. Therefore we were compelled to file the complaint, on our son’s behalf with the Office for Civil Rights.

Now you will hear the true beginning of the “whole story.” In May of 1998, upon the completion of a federal investigation, we were informed that OCR (Office for Civil Rights) had determined that the Fayetteville School District would need to take action to alter the current educational environment wherein students title lX and fourteenth amendment rights were violated. The following month, your representative, Bobby New signed a Commitment to Resolve (CTR) statement with OCR. The CTR included very specific actions the Fayetteville district was to implement and enforce so as to ensure a safe school environment, especially the inclusion of those excluded under existing policies. One must ask, why, if it is a known and proven fact that students do face this type of harassment and discrimination would a school board deliberately exclude certain groups of children. Fear? Ignorance? It cannot be due to a lack of being informed as I attempted to do so years back. The very life of these children depend on those who have the authority to halt this form of bullying and to do so immediately.

This district has failed to follow the requirements in the CTR. Did you or your representative not understand the implications of this failure? The loss of federal funding. Can this district function without this money? In order for this district to honestly and truly leave no child behind, you must, in due diligence, develop and more importantly enforce non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies which are inclusive of all students who now attend our schools and those to follow.

Were you informed by those you employ to manage this district that they were not going to comply with the CTR? Do you understand that this was a first for this district and nationwide? Do you have a copy of the CTR and or the findings of the federal investigators?

An organization that I am very familiar with and one which the Fayetteville School Board website has a link to is the National School Board Association. This organization has a wealth of information and recommendations for school board members to adhere to. Including policies inclusive of real or perceived sexual orientation and real or perceived gender identity. Every major educational organization has similar information to support what I stated to this board over a decade ago and what I am saying to this board today.

The reason this becomes a crucial factor for the current board members is a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a former student, Billy Wolfe. Billy does not identify as gay but the maltreatment he endured was, for the most part, sexual and what every lgbt student faces in schools who do not seek to ensure a hostile-free learning environment that is inclusive of all students.

I have now heard from many students who relate to me the same type of maltreatment at the hands of other students who are not instructed to halt the bullying and in a few instances, encouraged. Six of these are wanting to file title lX complaints.

This school district and community is no different from others across this state and nation who face problems that seem to have no simple solutions. This is a problem that has a clear and positive solution and will cost little to take action. Why can we not learn from history but seem bound to repeat such? When will we, as citizens of this great nation learn that the tyranny of the majority cannot and should never deprive the same and equal rights to a minority?

There are organizations that are very willing to assist any community to seek a safer learning environment for their schools. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has been active for many decades now and was crucial in the support of our own family during the roughest time of our life as parents of a gay youth.

Another organization I work with, Families United Against Hate, has two goals, to support, advise and advocate for families and or victims newly impacted by bias motivated violence and just as crucial, to seek any and all measures to prevent such violence.

We are all a part of a larger coalition which includes school districts, business’ and organizations known as the Safe Schools Coalition. All and more of the groups I have mentioned welcome the request of assistance by school districts who seek to ensure their schools are a hostile-free learning environment for all students and employees.

I have provided you with a copy of this statement as well as other crucial data that is supported by research (all included in footnotes). I only beg of you to take immediate action so as to avoid the loss of life not to mention the emotional and physical toll that is wrought every day by not putting a halt to this form of bias.

May I suggest that you watch a Lifetime channel movie this Saturday evening called, “Prayers for Bobby.” A true story with a lesson for us all.

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