Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Update: Winston-Salem/Forsyth Co. Schools & anti-gay harassment

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Updated: 6:30am, 12/7/2005 Dr. Donald Martin, Superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, responded to the email I sent to him and the Board of Education members concerning the new report issued by GLSEN (See earlier post: The NC schools anti-gay harassment report & the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools ). The new report outlines anti-gay bullying and harassment problems within North Carolina schools. In the press release from GLSEN, a parent involved in one of the schools Dr. Martin oversees is even quoted on the problem. Here is what Dr. Martin had to say:
Thanks for sharing the info, Matt, and I'm glad that you are doing well. We spent all of last year working on bullying prevention strategies and have revamped our survey for the past two years. We ask students who indicate that they have been bullied this year or in the past to describe what happens. Fewer than 2% indicate anything about homophobic remarks. This year our students in grades 5,8, and 12 indicated less bullying than the year before. I also met with Rev. Susan Parker once a month for almost a year and we have developed a good reporting system so that we can address specific problems. Best wishes as you continue your education.
You know. I will have to say that out of all of the WS/FCS Administrators I have ever come in contact with (excluding Mr. Elrod, formerly of Reynolds High School), Dr. Martin has probably been the most willing to work toward addressing issues with LGBT youth. The person to whom he refers in his letter, the Reverend Susan Parker, was the former chair of the now defunct Winston-Salem chapter of GLSEN. She is now the Vice President of PFLAG Winston-Salem. Dr. Martin says that they have revamped their surveys. I doubt that there is any mention of anti-gay harassment or homophobic remarks within the questions. To Dr. Martin's statement that "fewer than 2% indicate anything about homophobic remarks," I have to say this: Those figures come from an open-ended question at the end where students wirte down what has happened to them. Someone then has to read those student statements and decide where they fit, in terms of categories, like anti-gay harassment. The fact that the school system says only 2% of students mention anti-gay harassment does nothing to make me feel better, because I know it is a faulty number. Many of the people I went to school with (and I graduated in '04 so it isn't like it is that long ago) didn't even know what was considered "homophobic" and many students didn't even see a problem with using terms such as "faggot" or "queer" or saying "that's so gay." The survey questions should ask... "Have you ever heard anyone say words like 'faggot,' 'queer,' or 'dyke,' of make use of phrases such as 'that's so gay.'" Now, if the questions were formed like that... I bet you anything you'd find more than 2%.... A LOT MORE... like closer to the 84% that the GLSEN survey found. The thing is.... that 2% statistic is probably mainly LGBT youth responding to the open-ended question and mentioning the harassment they receive. That number, however, doesn't include all of the straight people who make homophobic and anti-gay remarks, but don't know that they are homophobic or anti-gay. Their friends don't know it either, so no reporting is going on. And the fact of the matter is, no matter which way you cut it, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education has still not added the terms "sexual orientation" or "gender-identity" to its non-discrimination or harassment policies. The Guilford County Schools have... and their society hasn't fallen from the "evils of homosexuality" yet... what does the Board fear? I don't know why the WS/FCS Board of Education doesn't do something more proactive. I guess they will just have to wait until they get notice of a lawsuit because they failed to take the proper steps in protecting a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender student. When that happens... maybe they will get the picture. UPDATE: 6:30am, 12/7/2005: Response from Board Member Jill Tackaberry:
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns about bullying. Our most recent "climate" survey has shown some interesting statistics in this area - students knowing what bullying is, how to deal with it, feeling that when they told an adult about an incident, something was done about it. (I believe you can get a copy of that document by contacting our PR/Marketing dept.) Thanks again for staying concerned about the WS/FC school system.