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.”
Your 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.”
“(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.
As 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.