Home > Education, Elected Officials, FUSD, New Media > FUSD Working To Ensure A Culture Of Acceptance

FUSD Working To Ensure A Culture Of Acceptance

By Elisha Dorfsmith

A crowd of about 50 people, including representatives from a variety of activist groups attended tonight’s Flagstaff Unified School District work session on school bullying. The topic of school bullying has been in the spotlight in recent months with several high profile cases in the news. Everyone from President Obama to locals posting comments on the AZ Daily Sun website have been pushing for school policies to address the problem.

Much of tonight’s meeting was spent trying to identify exactly what the problem is. Should parents be afraid to send their kids to school? Are we doing enough to keep our kids safe? Are district schools full of bullies lurking around every corner? Some in the crowd seemed to have that impression (more on that later).

To combat this notion, the district gave a presentation titled Ensuring A Culture Of Acceptance. They explained that they already have an extensive anti bullying policy that addresses many bullying, intimidation, and harassment issues and ensures that district schools provide a safe environment for students.

Assistant Superintendent Dirksen said that if there is something missing, it is the fact that the district does not have a definition of bullying. He suggested that the district work on a definition, revise certain forms that relate to bullying and refine their general policy. He concluded by saying that the district should embrace an inclusive culture where everybody counts and is accepted. While he was the first to mention it, the phrase “inclusive culture” was echoed many times throughout the evening.

So what exactly is the definition of bullying? Board member Biggerstaff read the New Jersey definition which is very broad and has many free speech advocates nervous:

Full NJ policy HERE.

Section 2

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements: The policy shall contain a definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying no less inclusive than:

“Harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication* that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function or on a school bus and that:

a) a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to his person or damage to his property; or

b) has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students in such a way as to cause substantial disruption in, or substantial interference with, the orderly operation of the school. N.J.S.A. 18A:37-14, N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15(3)(b)(2), N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15.1(2)(b) and N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.9(a)2ii.

A quick google search brings up many articles showing that districts across the country are struggling with this issue. There is even a potential national definition that has districts terrified of lawsuits. Any way you look at it, many of these definitions scream lawsuit and districts are going to be working overtime disciplining teachers who accidentally break the rules. It could get very interesting.

Board member Vasquez specifically mentioned tonight (as he has several times in the past) that teachers and staff are often bullies and bullying by adults cannot be tolerated.

Like it or not, teachers are going to be put under the microscope and they better start tiptoeing around their students.

Cyberbullying was also brought up several times by the board and no one really knew where to go with it. Board member Ells asked if the district may need a separate policy to address the problem. There was also talk about legal limitations on the district and their ability to search students phones. This is a recurring topic which I discuss in detail HERE. I am sure we will be hearing much more about it in the future.

Next came input from the public. Local activist Lisa Rayner spoke on behalf of PFLAG. She said she was made fun of in school for stuttering and being quiet and was also sexually harassed. She explained that this happened between the ages of 5 and 18 and that she has post traumatic stress disorder because of it. She said the district needs to create gay straight alliances in middle schools to help address the problems. She also said that the district should work to protect gender identity and expression, end name calling and show the film Bullied by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Hearing Lisa talk about the Southern Poverty Law center reminded me of a blog I posted a while back called Name Calling. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls tea parties “Hate Groups” and they consider Ron Paul to be one of the most dangerous men in America. They are known for  calling anyone who disagrees with them names. Will FUSD protect the rights of tea party kids? Will they protect libertarians? Will they protect Ron Paul supporters? My guess is that the policy Ms. Rayner was endorsing is one sided.

Continuing the public input, Eric Souders of Friends Of Flagstaff’s Future talked about his childhood and how he had to deal with sexually explicit drawings and notes and other student’s coughing fits when he stood up in front of the class. He said that as time went on, anger shifted from his peers to his teachers and he is still angry now.

In all, there were seven members of the public who spoke. They told the board to stop violence in any manor and that no hint of violence should be tolerated (think zero tolerance policies). They said a comprehensive plan that is proactive against cyberbullying must be adopted. They explained that words hurt and certain attitudes should not be condoned. They concluded that policy drives change and it is up to the school board to create this change.

Board member Bavasi told the board that this is serious stuff and it should not be put on the back burner. He told the board that they need to get something together and if it’s not perfect, they can fix it as they go.

The board agreed to get their policy in order and come up with a bullying definition. Mr. Dirksen admitted that it will take time to address the school culture aspect. They plan to have a first reading of a suggested policy on the 26th of April.

Do you believe that a new policy is needed or is this just another distraction for FUSD? Please post in the comments section of my blog or send me an email at: flaglibertyalliance@yahoo.com I’d love to read your thoughts.

www.flagstafflibertyalliance.com

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  1. March 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    It is important. No kid should be afraid to go to school; no kid should have to(or feel that they have to) skip school to avoid being threatened, explicitly or implicitly.

    I am aware of your fear that enforcement of such a policy will be lopsided, Elisha; I think it is accurate to say that greater focus is currently on bullying targetting race and sexual orientation. This follows the recent suicides of students who were bullied due to their perceived sexual orientation. But any ruling or ordinance dealing with this is written in such a way that any student who is a victim of bullying may use it to self-advocate. If a student aligned with the Tea Party, for instance (and we have mountains of them) feels that their teacher is allowing their peers to belittle or bully them, they have the same recourse as any other student to address the treatment administratively. IT WILL BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. Keep in mind that change is largely driven by litigation, and the family of any bullied child, regardless of the reason, can take advantage of this.

  2. March 30, 2011 at 7:31 am

    My opinion on the subject is that much of the problems with bullying is a result of forced association in the school system. Compulsory schooling forces people to be together even though they do not wish to be. I’ve heard the argument that these sort of things are just part of growing up, and that you need to be able to deal with people who you may not get along with. Well all I know for sure is that since High School, I do not recall a time in my life where I was followed while being called faggot.

    Does this really prepare us for the “real world” or does it cripple us from truly embracing life, as we deal with the many mental issues that arise from childhood bullying once we enter the “real world”?

    • March 30, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Depends on what the “real world” is. If it’s surveillance cameras, standing in straight lines waiting your turn, not questioning authority, doing what you’re told, I would say that schools do a great job of preparing kids for the real world.

      They also do a great job of creating sheep who go with the flow and embrace the status quo.

  3. March 30, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Any explicit definition of bullying is going to expose the transgressions of the authorities so it will be interesting to see how this proceeds, how they will structure a loophole for ‘well meaning adults’ from school employees to parents to escape blame. Children live what they learn at the hands of these authorities.

    • March 30, 2011 at 7:41 am

      Agreed 100% and as I told several people last night, kids are going to hold their teachers accountable and there is enormous potential for lawsuits. I strongly believe in holding authorities accountable so maybe this will ultimately be a good thing.

  4. March 30, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Ken, let me give you another example of the double standard. In this letter, Dan Fraizier argues that it’s OK to ridicule people if he’s doing it:

    http://azdailysun.com/news/opinion/mailbag/article_f33319b7-9dce-5f0d-af33-4cd551b209e0.html

    My fears about a one sided policy are not baseless. As you know, Lisa Rayner is married to Dan Fraizier http://www.lisarayner.com/about_lisa.htm

    I strongly support and defend free speech and even ridicule (I’m sure some would accuse me of ridicule in my blog). I also realize that schools are not the place for name calling and ridicule and it should be discouraged. My problem is that the people pushing hardest for a new bullying policy are known for attacking and ridiculing everyone who disagrees with them. I see the possibility of this policy being enforced in a politically correct way and not in a way that will protect all kids.

  5. Ken
    April 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Enough with dismissing ideas/actions/people as “politically correct” (sorry, Elisha–not directed at you so much as a general fatigue with that particular gambit). The existence of a Dan Frazier doesn’t invalidate the existing reason in a policy or idea any more than the existence of a Glenn Beck does.

    If a bullying policy can make its way into existence in the district, it will be a tool that can be used by whomever chooses to do so. The Christian student who is allowed to be the target of ridicule by a teacher will be as able to employ district policy as the gay student, or the black student, or any other student.

    Seriously, if you would walk the halls of the school…I’m not saying that you would be especially comforted, but I think that you would see how unlikely your concerns over excessive political correctness are.

  6. April 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

    If you don’t like the term “politically correct” I can use a different term. I am afraid that this policy will be used and enforced by those with the biggest agenda. I’m not saying that Christian students or other students will not be protected but I do question the motives of the most outspoken proponents of this policy.

  1. May 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

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