Buncombe County Schools, You’re Doing It All Wrong

Dear Buncombe County Schools,

I recently read about your student Grayson Bruce being bullied for carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school.  I read that your response was that Grayson should leave his backpack at home because it is “a trigger for bullying” and has “become a distraction.”

grayson-bruce-600x450Your response surprised and angered me.  I understand that I’m relying solely on the mother’s quotes to the media, but I certainly hope that you reacted better than that.  After all, as youth-serving professionals you’re expected, trained and paid to act better than that.

Why do I care?  Because I have a son who is seven and carries a Monster High backpack to school everyday.  I guess it’s a “girls backpack.”  I mean, it’s marketed mostly to girls, but he has never needed a vagina to operate it, so it seems silly to say it’s “for girls.”  Because I’m raising a boy who mostly likes things marketed to girls, I’ve had to educate myself and our school and district about the laws that they should already know.  I thought I’d take a minute to educate you, too, since you seem to be uninformed.

Please get yourself familiar with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; specifically the 2010 letter about Title IX issued by the United States Department of Education that was signed by the assistant secretary for civil rights.

“Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential. The movement to adopt anti-bullying policies reflects schools’ appreciation of their important responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. . . . School districts may violate these civil rights statutes…when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed or ignored by school employees.”

USDepEdThere is a whole section on gender-based harassment that you need to know.

“(Title IX) prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping. Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.

Title IX protects all students, including lesbian, gay, bi- sexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. . . . The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. . . . The school [has] an obligation to take immediate and effective action to eliminate the hostile environment.”

You see, Grayson has the right to carry the backpack of his choice — just like every other student in your schools – and he has the right to a safe learning environment.   You have an obligation to see to it that those rights are protected.

You need to improve your campus culture, follow the discipline/behavior-management policy your school has adopted and send all students who have witnessed the homophobic bullying the message that their rights will be protected by school faculty and staff in accordance with state and federal laws.  Teach your students to do the right thing by leading by example.

My-Little-Pony-Friendship-Is-Magic-Episode-12As much as you have failed Grayson, you’ve also failed his bullies.  You need to help them learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.  If backpacks are triggers to these kids, they need help.  They need to be able to see a backpack and not act out in dangerous, antisocial and harmful ways.  After all, backpacks are everywhere.

And, imagine, if your bully students are acting like this in grade school, what kind of behaviors will they be displaying in middle school, high school and beyond, when there is no school structure to support them?

The age-inappropriate language and behaviors of the bullies indicate that they are children at risk.  Research shows that bullying behavior is a predictive behavior of adult violence.  You can help curb adult violence, so you should.

I posted the People Magazine article about Grayson and your schools on my Facebook page.  I received 2,553 likes, 407 comments and 216 shares.  Wow, that’s a lot, right?

Most people agreed with me that you should be working to modify the behaviors of the bullies, not the behaviors of the bullied.  The people who disagreed with me and agreed with you had some typical responses that are dangerous, narrow-minded and hopefully aren’t shared by youth-serving professionals such as yourself.   Even if you do share those views, you can’t let them get in the way of laws that you are obligated to abide by.

Sincerely,

Lori Duron

About raisingmyrainbow

RaisingMyRainbow.com is a blog about the adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son.
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37 Responses to Buncombe County Schools, You’re Doing It All Wrong

  1. Ellen says:

    Beautifully put!

  2. AMM says:

    I grew up in Virginia, where nothing had changed all that much since Robert E. Lee marched away, and I went to summer camp about 20 miles south of Asheville, NC (the Buncombe County seat.) I doubt that the attitudes towards appropriate behavior for boys has changed much in the intervening half century.

    The school’s reaction is exactly what I would have expected. When and where I grew up, boys were expected to be 100% masculine, without any taint of girlyness. Since boys are expected to be “tough”, if you were bullied, it was your fault for not being tough enough. That was the attitude of all the schools and camps I went to, and my mother’s, too.

    Bullying (among boys, at least) is a form of gender policing (and thus socially approved in places that worship masculinity, like the South), so it’s not surprising that if you do something as un-boyish as liking a TV show for girls, those in power will see it as doubly your fault.

    And, yes, I learned about this the hard way. (No, I don’t want to go back.)

  3. Loved your book and blog, Lori. You know, another reason this is so ridiculous is because there are hordes of ADULT males, many straight, who are rabid ponyheads, or ‘bronys’, as they call themselves. Every August in Baltimore they celebrate Bronycon. One reporter, scenting blood, began an obviously smirky interview with an attendee, who cut him off with, “I’ve been a firefighter for eight years, and no, I don’t live in my parent’s basement. Anything else?” Woo-hoo, loved that.

  4. Isabelle says:

    Awesome response! Thank you for always articulating this so well!

  5. Such a great response! I hope you’ve sent this letter to them directly, and if you wanted to make a petition to add names to this letter too, I’d certainly be another name to sign it.

  6. Lyona says:

    The other thing about MLP is that it might seem as a little girl’s show at first glance, but besides being enjoyable for adults too, each and every episode has some sort of moral guidance. Nothing too heavy, but they project important values such as friendship, loyalty, what-not. My favourite thing in the show is that it shows its’s okay to make mistakes – just try to learn from them. it’s an everyday thing, and nobody is perfect.
    Aaaand I could go on and on and on.

  7. Staci says:

    Good grief – aren’t the schools supposed to be teaching critical thinking, a main part of which is the fallacy of generalizations (ie stereotypes)? I would love to see a change.org petition for this one – just imagine the number of Bronies who’d sign there. I get the feeling that that entire administration could do with some viewings of ‘Friendship is Magic’ because they certainly don’t seem to understand the most basic concepts.

  8. Michelle Rouse says:

    Brilliant!

  9. foodradical says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for being a strong advocate to those who need the extra support!
    And, you are one awesome mama!

  10. R says:

    I always feel that what is “appropriate” in school should apply equally to both genders. As long as a dress, skirt, shirt, backpack, etc… meets the school’s policy, it should be for any gender. If a dress worn by a bio boy would be appropriate for a girl (i.e. where I teach that means no spaghetti straps, no halter tops, no exposed backs…) it is fine. Our school made up a special lesson for the classes to emphasize that everyone has the right to express themselves in their clothes, interests, color choices, hair, etc… and be respected by others and feel safe.

  11. PenniCash says:

    Brilliantly composed. Thank you so much.

  12. Lisa W. says:

    Spot on, as usual! Elegantly put.

  13. Pingback: Gendertyping Toys: It Needs to Stop | Mommy Rebnic

  14. Amy says:

    Great response! Sad to believe that any school district would respond as they did but also hard to believe that any school district needs to be reminded of “the law” ! I agree so with Phil Taylor’s statement!!

  15. Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    One of my favorite bloggers educates school officials on their duty to respond to bullies rather then give in to them…

  16. Concerned Mom says:

    Thank you! My son is also a Brony, and every time I hear about a Brony kid being bullied, I cringe.

  17. quilteresq says:

    Been waiting for this. Glad I didn’t have to wait long.

  18. poeticbulimic says:

    Thank you thank you! So well said, and I love the explanation “he has never needed a vagina to operate it”–works perfectly for what should really be labelled for specific sexes.

  19. Thank you for your post on this. I am glad to see people speaking out on this.

  20. luckytrinket says:

    Reblogged this on Who Would Have Guessed and commented:
    Awesome blog. I love this.

  21. pinkagendist says:

    Gooooo Lori! :)
    The wonderful thing is that this letter, on its own, makes a difference. When I was a boy circa 1980-something, there was no internet, no letter like this; Just Headmasters and even counselors who told us to toughen up, that boys will be boys- basically, that we deserved anything that happened to us.
    If we all go out of our way to endorse your message, we’re creating a better world. One that’s kinder and friendlier, and not just to LGBT people.

  22. luckytrinket says:

    I saw this article when a friend shared it on FB. I was livid with it!! I personally would be contacting a lawyer over it if I was that child’s mother.
    I just couldn’t believe it. “Bullying triggers?” Seriously teach the kids to not be assholes!!!!

  23. Monica Converse says:

    Lori, as soon as I heard about this I thought about you! You are an advocate for love, grace and understanding for all!!! You keep rocking the world and one day it will slowly cradle itself to love. That’s my dream. Monica

  24. Between this principal claiming Grayson’s backpack was a “trigger for bullying” and the Arkansas school administrator backing Taylor Ellis’ principal for pulling Taylor’s profile from their yearbook because it talked about him coming out as gay, this has been one crappy week for students who don’t fit into societal norms.

    From the administrator’s statement: “We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community. We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group.”

    I think both translate to: “All our students must fit into our preconceived norms and, if they don’t, we must either make sure they appear to fit in or we’ll hide them. And no one can tell us otherwise.”

  25. Mark says:

    did you send it Lori? Because if you did, send it again, and add my name to it. In fact, I hope there is a change.org thing going. While I pass on alot ofthem, the whole social media protest does go a long way I just haven’t seen one yet, but maybe if they get 50-60,000 signatures they’ll get a clue as to what they may be missing. They meant well, in some odd fashion, but man they sure went about it in so many wrong ways..

    • Deborah Carpenter says:

      I’m sorry to say, Mark, as a North Carolinian, that the school officials probably did not ‘mean well’. The rural portions of my state are by and large very phobic when it comes to those who are LGBTQ and gender creative. Sadly, as evidenced by the passage of Amendment One over and above the ‘traditional’ marriage law, the majority of people in this state is not very forward looking or thinking.

      Oh and thank you, Lori, for your eloquent letter. I hope you did send this to the Buncombe County School Administration, perhaps eyes can be opened. I love my Southern home, for all it’s faults, and would like to see it grow up and join this century.

  26. Dr. Sayers says:

    Thanks so much for this; it so badly needs to be said over and over again. I’d like to share my own thoughts about bullying. Hope that’s okay!

    http://wkwutk.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/bullying-is-a-community-problem/

  27. Rebecca M says:

    Well said! I wonder if this school would tell a disabled child or a non-white child to leave their “bullying triggers” at home… oh wait, they can’t. And no child should be forced to. Because what you’re teaching the bullies in this case is that they should only respect people who fit into certain socially acceptable boundaries. And that’s a pretty lousy message to send to kids.

  28. Great post! IMO, by forbidding him to carry that backpack, the SCHOOL is now bullying him just as much as the other students.

  29. Phil Taylor says:

    “As much as you’ve failed Grayson, you’ve failed his bullies.” Brilliant. I heard about this story too and my first thought was that the school itself had bullied Grayson and reinforced the bullies behavior.

  30. Bill Harrison says:

    Good for you, Lori! Hope you get a good response.

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