As student interns for Equality Texas, we’ve spent the summer working on the Safe Schools Initiative. Our goals are to spread awareness of bullying and harassment in Texas public schools, to give voice to those who need help getting their stories told, and to ultimately convince legislators and school district officials to put laws and policies into place that keep kids safe.
The recent lawsuit filed by Georgetown parent Kime Mitchell is just one example of what parents of students bullied in Texas public schools are forced to do in order to keep their children safe, since existing legislation and policies often fail to protect their children.
Kime Mitchell is suing the Georgetown Independent School District for what she characterizes as its refusal to protect her son from bullying and harassment. Ms. Mitchell says her son suffered six years of abuse that included physical assault and being called derogatory terms based on sexual orientation, and that school officials consistently ignored her requests for intervention.
Unfortunately, bullying like this is far too common in schools: a recent National Center for Education Statistics study shows that more than one in four students have been bullied in the past month.
Moreover, bullying has devastating effects on youth. Studies have shown that victims have higher levels of depression, even into adulthood, and that tens of thousands of children may skip school each month out of fear for their safety at school.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, and students who bullies perceive as LGBT, are at particular risk of being targeted for bullying and harassment. School administrators cite actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as the number two reason students are targeted after appearance/body size.
Schools have a duty to teach all children in a safe environment. Georgetown ISD’s own Code of Conduct, for instance, states that “GISD will promote nurturing, safe, and orderly environments… for all students.” Equality Texas is working with districts across the state to ensure that such goals are met and that all Texas youth can feel safe in schools.
Based on the advice of experts, Equality Texas advocates for district-level policies that include enumeration of attributes of students who are often singled out for bullying and harassment. These policies state that bullying based specifically on such attributes, along with any other bullying, is prohibited.
While such enumerated policies protect all students, they go a step further by sending the message to students that there is no acceptable reason to bully someone and by clearly communicating to teachers and administrators who are the most at-risk students.
We will continue our efforts to encourage Texas school districts to implement strong policies and anti-bullying curriculum.
You can help in the effort by sharing your own stories with us.
Click here to share your story. Following receipt of your story, we will be in touch with you to discuss next steps, including advocacy efforts with your state representative and/or school district officials.
Posted by Beth Casey and Allison Jones.
Beth Casey is a Public Policy/Legislative Advocacy Intern at Equality Texas. She is currently working toward a Masters of Public Policy Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Allison Jones is a Field Organizing Intern at Equality Texas. She will graduate next month from Texas State University with a degree in Family & Child Development.