The New Bullying?
By Alex Distefano
In a perfect scenario, all high school students shouldn’t have to face bullying, harassment, name-calling or any censorship of their freedom of speech or personal expression.
But according to a group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students at Sultana High School in Hesperia, the very people that should be the ones preventing this type of behaviors are the ones perpetrating them. And the ACLU has intervened and ordered school officials to lay off the anti-gay harassment.
“At Sultana High School, it sadly seems, the primary bullies are school officials and teachers—the very adults with a legal obligation and an ethical imperative to stop bullying and harassment and to ensure an equal and supportive educational experience for all,” states a letter from the ACLU—which was prompted by a call for help from the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
The GSA and other LGBT students claim that teachers and administrators ostracize them because of their sexuality. The GSA took its case to the ACLU, which issued an 11-page letter to the Hesperia School District detailing the alleged violations against homosexual students. The alleged violations include name-calling, using derogatory slurs, singling out students for their gender identity and ostracizing staff that tries to help students make formal complaints. The letter demanded that these violations cease immediately, and that they be addressed by the school in a timely manner lest legal action be taken against the school and/or district.
“School officials must refrain from discriminating against or harassing students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender non-conformity,” the letter reads. “Treating students differently, making harassing remarks or creating a hostile educational environment for a student because of a student’s sexual orientation or because a student fails to conform to gender stereotypes all constitute prohibited discrimination.”
The letter details many instances in which individual students were bullied or called names for being gay, or picked on by teachers for their sexual identity or related gender-identity issues.
“The faculty members take part in using terms like ‘that’s so gay’ and using ‘gay’ as an insult,” student Levi Smithson-Johnston recently told NBC4.
“There’s a lot of hate that’s going on and what makes it scary is that everyone thinks its OK,” student Kyle Boda told the same media outlet. “A lot of it is towards many of the LBGT students.”
Sultana High School and district officials did not respond to repeated attempts to contact them for interviews for this article.
One major issue cited is the school’s refusal to allow LGBT to wear non-conforming attire to the prom in April. Some female students, for example, wish to wear tuxedoes while some male students would prefer to wear heels and/or a dress. But such prom attire is apparently a violation of the school’s dress code.
“California law makes it crystal clear, schools cannot discriminate against LGBT students based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said.
The ACLU also alleges that the GSA has been unfairly treated and had its rights regularly infringed upon by school staff and administrators.
“School officials have censored the GSA’s promotional flyers and announcements in ways that other clubs are not censored and because of the viewpoint and message being conveyed,” the letter reads.
One example cited was the instance involving a submitted GSA announcement aimed at students that stated, “Do you identify as straight, lesbian, bisexual, gay or are you questioning everything? Come join Sultana’s Gay Straight Alliance on Wednesdays at lunch in room W-11. Join a group of students here on campus that support each other and want to make a difference for others”
But when the school broadcast the announcement, it merely told students, “GSA meeting in W-11.”
The Gay Straight Alliance is also not listed under the “School Clubs and Organizations” section of Sultana High School’s 2012-2013 Student Handbook & Planner
District Superintendent David McLaughlin purportedly cut his spring break early to respond to the issue at Sultana. In a written statement, he wrote, “These allegations are deeply concerning and they have my full and focused attention. While the ACLU letter focuses specifically on the rights of gay and lesbian students, I see it as a moral imperative to reinforce the current efforts in place regarding anti-bullying and tolerance throughout the district.”