Many of us celebrated this week, some with reckless abandon, the commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Schools and families give meaning and significance to the words that are printed on the Charters of Freedom documents: the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In order for us to hold the words in these incredible documents sacrosanct our schools should be places for learning and growing without fear from bullying. In essence a place by where one can be any one he/she wants to be, within legal boundaries, without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Each school’s administration and faculty should help create an institution for learning and growing where students and teachers build each other up to succeed at the highest of personal levels. Certainly a difficult bar to reach, however it is the right one for which all schools should strive.
Seth Walsh at the vulnerable age of 13 hanged himself at the beginning of his 8th grade school year after enduring several years of harassment for being gay. He obviously did not have any independence from his harassers. Last week federal education and department of justice officials excoriated the Tehachapi Unified School District that the school administration failed in their duty to protect Seth Walsh from “persistent, pervasive and often severe sex-based harassment”.
In Santa Clara County we have created a task force of interested community leaders headed by former Vice-Mayor Judy Chirco looking into ways we as a county can come up with practices whereby we reduce/eliminate the bullying epidemic for all children. The task force has been meeting on a regular basis making steady progress. Their next meeting is at the County Office of Education this week.
The government in its investigative report said, “These sexual and gender-based acts of aggression, intimidation and hostility directed toward the student—particularly in light of their cruel, relentless and inescapable nature, in conjunction with the student’s young and vulnerable age—were clearly sufficient to create a hostile environment that limited the student’s ability to participate in and benefit from the school’s education program.”
I wonder how many Santa Clara County students are experiencing something similar to Seth. I fear it is far more than we know or admit.
In the SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the Santa Clara County Office of Education Bullying task force, a lack of awareness, lack of commitment, and lack of skills to respond are three of a long list of local weaknesses that caught my eye. I fervently believe we can and must do better. A country that treasures its guiding documents called the Charters of Freedom must work to ensure every child is free to learn without harassment and intimidation.