California Department of Education Lies, Does Not Investigate LGBTQ Bullying

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Ronin Shimizu

Like my son, Ronin Shimizu was a young boy living in California. He was a cheerleader, like my son hopes to be one day. Ronin is described as positive and happy, like my son is often described. He endured bullying because he liked something that some people is “only for girls.” Sadly, my son knows exactly how that feels.

Last week, 12-year-old Ronin decided to end the bullying by ending his life.

I worry every day that my son will have this too in common with Ronin. Because the group of kids like Ronin and my son have the highest rate of suicide attempts in the world.

The articles about Ronin’s death report that in the years leading up to his suicide, Ronin’s parents made multiple complaints to his school about the homophobic and gender-based bullying their son was experiencing. The school’s response was inadequate and the bullying continued. Even after his parents removed him for school to homeschool him, Ronin continued to experience bullying that became unbearable.

As I read the coverage of his death, I’m swallowed by sorrow and anger. So many people failed Ronin: his bullies; the adults responsible for those bullies; people who knew about the bullying but did nothing to end it; the school; the district; and the state.

California’s safe school laws are comprehensive and advanced in comparison to other states. California leads the nation in establishing laws to protect perceived and confirmed LGBTQ kids and, then, the state fails these kids miserably by not enforcing the laws the way in which they have promised to do.

images-6Our family’s child advocate and anti-bullying superhero Karyl Ketchum recently traveled to Sacramento with a colleague to meet the staff at the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity. The office was created to investigate complaints of bullying and discrimination against schools and districts throughout California and enforce the state’s excellent safe school laws and education codes.

While at the office, Ketchum discovered that the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity has not investigated a single claim of discrimination filed by or on behalf of students across the state. The office’s failure to enforce anti-bullying laws has resulted in dangerous, system-wide ignorance and unaccountability in California’s schools. The Education Office of Equal Opportunity doesn’t even log or track appeals.

The on-going systemic failure is detailed in the scathing 2013 California State Auditor’s Office’s report summarized here: https://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/summary/2012-108

“Students across our state are waiting indefinitely on news of their appeal and for relief from the bullying they are experiencing, relief that, under the current system, will likely never come,” Ketchum said. “In the entire history of the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity there has never been a single actual investigation into the veracity of a student’s complaint of bullying, harassment, or discrimination. This situation constitutes a state of emergency for our children. We need a response from the California Department of Education that measures up to the size and scope of this emergency.”

I don’t know if Ronin’s parents filed an official uniform complaint form with the school, district or California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity. But, I have to believe that if the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity were doing it’s job, schools and districts would be more informed about the laws they are supposed to be abiding and guided by. Schools and districts would know that they have to answer to someone. And, when Ronin’s parents brought the bullying to their attention, action would have been swift, not stumbling.

Until more school and districts understand and enforce the protections kids like my son and Ronin are entitled to, I’m terrified that we will continue to hear of more outcomes like Ronin’s. If other parents can’t teach their kids to treat others like they want to be treated, for families like ours, schools, districts and the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity are our only hope. Right now that hope seems dim.

If you want to do something to help LGBTQ kids and their families in California, please email and/or phone State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s office and let him know that ignoring the situation at California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity is dangerous and must stop. Please join me in demanding that California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity be restructured, appropriately resourced and that it become computerized now…before we lose one more young person. Torlakson can be reached at 916-319-0800
and EHughes@cde.ca.gov.

If you or a young LGBTQ person you know is thinking about suicide, please call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. For adults over the age of 24, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

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About raisingmyrainbow

RaisingMyRainbow.com is a blog about the adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son.
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40 Responses to California Department of Education Lies, Does Not Investigate LGBTQ Bullying

  1. Pingback: Her Name Was Taylor | Raising My Rainbow

  2. Betsy Snyder says:

    I would really like to talk to you. My babysitter found you. She makes clothes and princess dresses for one of my boys. We talk about our wonderful child, and his view of the world. Loves mermaids. I would love to figure out how to start support in my area for parents to share wisdom. Could you email me? Thank you for your heart.

  3. AMM says:

    I’ve been thinking, ever since I read about Ronin Shimizu, that that could have been me.

    School was always a miserable place for me, but from fifth grade until about eighth or ninth grade, it was a pit of despair, to the point that almost daily I thought about ways to kill myself and debated whether the vague hope that life might be better in the distant future could ever make up for my present misery. I remember the other boys as little psychopaths in training, but I remember the adults as constantly impressing on me how everything about me was wrong and that it was obviously intentional. I can’t recall whether I was overtly gender non-conforming at the time, but I do know that a lot of the abuse I suffered was because I wouldn’t and couldn’t be what a boy was supposed to be. I wasn’t violent or disruptive, I just couldn’t seem to do or be what they expected me to be. Rule #1 in institutions that deal with children is that any problems related to a kid are 100 % the kid’s fault. (Rule #2 is that if it is ever not the kid’s fault, rule #1 applies.) It didn’t help that “supportive” has never been in my family’s emotional vocabulary. Things improved by the end of high school, and improved even more when I left my home town (which I refer to as “the Ante-Bellum South”) to go to college. But the thought that it would have been better if I had ended my life five decades ago has never really left me.

    I’m no longer in the Ante-Bellum South, and I’ve watched my two children go through the local school system, and I don’t see that much has changed. They’re better at BSing about all the wonderful things they’re going to do, but they still never did anything to help my kids unless we threatened them with legal action. One son was constantly harrassed on the bus by boys several years older than him, and the district kept insisting that they had investigated and nothing was happening. It wasn’t until we forced them to show us the videos from the camera on the bus, where we could see it going on, _and_ we escalated to the school board — with a threat of legal action — that he got switched to a different bus. Fortunately, my kids’ mother is a lawyer and the school district is small enough that a successful lawsuit hurts. In contrast to my parents, I think we have been fairly supportive. But I think we’ve been lucky. Ronin’s parents were supportive, too, but it evidently wasn’t enough for Ronin to feel it was worth sticking around, though.

    In some cases, the teachers and administrators do nothing about bullying because the bullies are simply expressing attitudes that the adults also hold (I think this is often the case when gay or trans kids are bullied.) In others, they do nothing because it’s less work to ignore it and/or blame the kid.

    So I always assume the worst about schools. When a school claims they’re doing something for bullied kids, or minorities, or special needs kids, or anyone other than the easiest kids, I assume it’s all BS, to make it look like they’re doing something without actually having to do things any different from the way they always have. When I read that the Folsom school district was “investigating,” all I could think was, it’s all just BS to cover their asses. They’ll spend months “investigating,” and once the press has forgotten about it, they’ll release a report hundreds of pages long that concludes that all the adults did just what they should have done and there was no way they could have reduced Ronin’s suffering. Rule #1.

  4. Viking says:

    I am horrified by everything I’ve read about poor sweet Ronin’s case and I am doubly terrified my nephew will be another case just like this one. People need to stand up for these kids!

  5. MM says:

    This is so heartbreaking. Not just for Ronin’s family and friends but for all the world that doesn’t get to have his beauty in it. I live in California and I will call and write.

    Such grief.

  6. bmommyx2 says:

    so sad, It upsets me every time I hear of a story like this

  7. shea says:

    This poor child. It angers and enrages me so much that in this supposedly more accepting period of the world, this kind of bullying and intolerance is allowed to continue. Psychology has made some great strides towards showing that homosexuality and all related items can be tied closely to natural biology. It isn’t a perfect science yet, but there is enough raw data that I would hope that people could understand that Ronin and children like your son are acting the way that they believe is normal and right. To bully them into acting “mainstream” is much more unnatural than allowing them to continue being happy in a safe environment. The world has lost a bright light for the future in Ronin. We need more people that are individualistic and proud. My heart goes out to his family.

  8. Beth says:

    I will be e-mailing immediately. I learned in September that the Saddleback Valley Unified School District had been operating under the belief that AB 1266 had been suspended–not acceptable. We all need to step up to help protect ALL students’ rights.

  9. Ellen says:

    This story is tragic and I will definitely email Tom Torlakson. Something must be done. Thanks for sharing this story in depth.

  10. Brenda says:

    Ronin’s story is heartbreaking and goes along with all of the other heartbreaking stories of kids taking their lives for fear of living as who they are inside. Thank you Lori for sharing this story on your blog as I’m hoping it generates a lot of exposure to Ronin’s story to help open people’s eyes as to what hate really accomplishes. It must end…now!

  11. The indifference of the 70’s and 80’s hidden behind a thin veil of political correctness. It’s like they’re saying, “See, look at what we’re doing for these students. We made a whole office with a shiny new nameplate on the door, just for them.” Meanwhile nothing’s in the office but dust and unread requests.

    And my kid missed school again today because zie was up all night due to anxiety.

    • mdaniels4 says:

      I’m sorry. They should be having anxiety over a big upcoming test, not social interaction for being who they are. If others don’t like them then so be it. I don’t like everyone, nor does everyone like me. I have one woman at work that’s incredibly rude to me. Part of that is just her, but a part of that is she just doesn’t like me even tjough i’ve really done nothing to warrant thay. Oh well. But as adults we don’t go ouy of our way to hurt each other professionally. That’s as good ad it gets and school is thrse kids current jobs and tje managers need to deal with it as such.

  12. mdaniels4 says:

    Personally i wouldn’t bother. I’d immediately file suit and start that way. They already knew the arguments and the right thing to do and chose to ignore it. Sometimes this is the only way to make them see what they did was wrong. The lobbying for this department and the law was already successful so what is the point of furthering that at this time?

  13. Glenn says:

    Thank you Lori for the heads up on poor implementation, and Laurin for the sample email. I sent mine also to my Assemblymember and Senator (Californians can find theirs at http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/), because of problems with funding. Also, for anyone who wants to see the Audit report, the link in the post did not work for me, but this one did: https://www.bsa.ca.gov/reports/summary/2012-108. Finally, all of this has motivated me to establish and maintain contact with our local school board representative, even though we have opted for private school for our gender creative kid.

  14. Lance says:

    The report link isn’t working. I’ll try not to theorize that someone in state government doesn’t want it accessible for the time being. I searched the state auditor website too and found nothing.

    My heart goes out to his family and friends. I experienced discrimination from early childhood on and thoughts of escape begin at a young age. My schools all failed me on a daily basis. Parents, make sure your kids know they can come to you with mental and emotional issues, that there is no shame in speaking to you about such issues, then reinforce that knowledge. I did not have a safe haven at home, unless I was home alone or locked inside my bedroom. I did not have supportive parents. I almost didn’t make it.

  15. Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    This situation demands action. Read Lori’s heartfelt post and respond by contacting California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity (see the end of Lori’s post). I have been an advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth for 25 years – enough is enough!

  16. Mark J says:

    I read about Ronin this past weekend and a deep sadness crept into my soul. How horrible can a life be at only 12 years old to lead someone to suicide? Such sadness.

    We — as a society — but WE as LGBT people, must do more. We must do more for our children. And yes, they are OUR children. Our children who are queer. Our children who are non-conforming. Our children who inter-sexed or questioning or trans or whatever it is that doesn’t fit the narrow range of “normal.”

    For far too long, the queer community has left our children to be raised by the larger world of hate. The world of indifference (if you are lucky), of bullying, of murder and suicide. And then we pick up the broken pieces when they turn 18 and expect to have functioning people.

    We as a community have listened to the haters who tell us we aren’t allowed around children because we are perverts and we prey on kids. So we abandon our children to the people who actually do prey on them.

    We must conquer our fears and engage our children before we lose another generation to suicide.

  17. Lisa says:

    This story is heartbreaking – the loss of a vibrant young child, the state’s decision not to take real action in what has become a major crisis, and the lack of information and skills that the educational system is providing its teachers. I, for one, will be writing Tom Torlakson’s office. Thank you for letting us know what we can do.

  18. Laurin says:

    Here is a sample email for anyone who wants to write:

    Dear Superintendent Torlakson,

    I am heartbroken over the recent suicide of Ronin Shimizu and terrified that many more young people will lose their lives. Bullying is a pernicious problem and it will take all of us to stop further unnecessary deaths of young people. We need the State of California to do its part. If California’s anti-bullying laws were being followed and enforced, I believe that Ronin would be alive today.

    I am the mother of a gay son who was bullied in public schools. He, like Ronin, was unhappy and isolated. He, like Ronin, did not want to live. Unlike Ronin’s parents, I breathed a sigh of relief when my son got through those difficult years.

    California leads the nation in laws to protect children who are LGBT or perceived to be LGBT. Yet, not enough is being done by the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity to inform schools about these laws, support them in implementing the laws, and hold them accountable. I am shocked to learn that reports of bullying are not being investigated by the State.

    Many parents don’t even bother informing school authorities, because they lack the confidence that schools will protect their children. If there were adequate protections for our young people, swifter, and more effective action would be taken any time a child, parent of caregiver complains about bullying.

    The current situation is dangerous and we need action now! We need the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity to be adequately resourced, structured, and computerized. We need the Office of Equal Opportunity to be responsible for ensuring the enforcement of California’s laws by making sure that all districts and schools know their responsibilities and have effective policies and procedures to carry them out. We need the Office of Equal Opportunity to hold districts accountable to their obligation to protect our children.

    Sincerely,

    Laurin Mayeno

  19. Pingback: Taking Action In Memory of Ronin Shimizu | Out Proud Families

  20. Kimberly says:

    One thing to remember – if something is a crime off campus – it is still a crime on campus. Parents should know what the age of reason is in their jurisdiction. If the administration refuses to protect your child, look at using criminal charges. In some states, there are laws that require someone charged with a crime to be removed from the campus the victim attends until the case is decided.

    I was bullied largely because of a set of genetic illnesses, but there was also the threat of rape from K – 5th grade. In 5th grade the full extent came to light. My family talked to our lawyer and a lawsuit and criminal charges were threatened. The bullying stopped on a dime. The boy’s family put him in private school. Yes we were “that family” to some administrators but if it kept my sister, our cousins, friends, and me safe my parents didn’t care. There were multiple incidents over the next few years -were family or friends got the boys will be boys and s/he needs to stop making him/herself the target. Until the admin found out the victim was connected to us. Then the bullies were suspended and the harassment stopped.

    BTW one of the criminal charges threatened was against the administrators failure to report child abuse, threatening mandated reporters to stop them from reporting, and failure to protect a child in your custody from abuse.

    Sadly the bully in my case never got help, we suspect he was being abused himself. How else does a kindergartner describe rape in such detail? Last I heard he was in Texas Prison system for rape and assult.

  21. Grandma Colorado says:

    This is despicable. I live in Colorado but retired from the California school district. I am contacting the Department of Education immediately. It is an embarrassment to be from this occupation and have nothing done but lip service. Another example of administration saying what you want to hear but not following through with anything constructive. The State of California had a great plan but just covered their butts. I worry so much for children like my grandson. They need to be protected NOW.
    Grandma Colorado

  22. Reblogged this on Charissa's Grace Notes and commented:
    I cannot even begin to speak of how I feel after reading this. Thank yous to Lori for finding her voice to write about what I felt frozen by.

    If you read this, and then go on business as usual, you need to realize: there may be someone in your circle of influence who is either bullying or bullied.

    Your involvement could make all the difference.

    We feel the tragic nature of these sorts of things because someone unique, utterly precious and beyond priceless has been snuffed out. But the same principle holds the other way: you…you yourself are unique, and have a power and a voice that impacts the universe.

    But only if you use it. If you don’t, well we all know the black tide that seeks to erode everything and pull it into itself and its seething mass of hurt and horror.

  23. Thanks for posting. I used to work as the Outreach Director for Community Matters, an international nonprofit based in CA that focuses on anti-bullying programs and improving school climate. I sent this to its Executive Director, Rick Phillips. You should contact him directly, also: rick@community-matters.org He’s very responsive and has some clout, especially in CA (he used to work for the state DOE many years ago). http://www.community-matters.org is thei website, which explains their evidence-based, youth-centered Safe School Ambassadors school-based program, school climate improvement assemblies, parent and staff education workshops and more.

    Best to you. Consider coming on my *CHANGES* show! The next Episode is about this very topic! Episode 15 of *CHANGES* G+ HOA with guest, Krysten Lindsay Hager, middle grade/ YA/ adult fiction author/ blogger/ foodie is LIVE on Wednesday, December 10, 10 – 11 AM EST USA, https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/cqqct9l8rnpi2o2e9kusu9mav6k , or catch our conversation any time on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ukIWKpyDKI. Visit her website, http://www.krystenlindsay.com, to learn more about Krysten.
    Watch conversations with my previous *CHANGES* guests any time: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPbfKicwk4dFdeVSAY1tfhtjaEY_clmfq
    Learn more about and get yourself on or recommend someone to be scheduled as a guest: *CHANGES* G+ HOA  http://sallyember.com/changes-videocasts-by-sally-ember-ed-d/

    best to you,

    Sally

  24. Reblogged this on Sally Ember, Ed.D. and commented:
    This is shameful. If you live in CA, DO SOMETHING! Your tax dollars are NOT at work!

  25. L says:

    Still the frontier of acceptance. It’s going to change one family at a time. Your amazing family is a shining example. I wish I were surprised that those responsible for enforcement are ignoring the law and the complaints. Laws won’t change people’s minds or ease their fears. What will? I wish I knew.

  26. Angela Harry says:

    Utterly unacceptable but, unfortunately, typical of many organisations who put the structures in place to address various problems, but never do more than pay lip service to their administration. In my view it’s because the people charged with these duties simply don’t believe in the importance of what they are supposed to be doing. It’s high time that the right people are put in the right places, and those who have so far dragged their heels are kicked out or moved on, before another innocent child dies.

  27. anawnimiss says:

    Not even a single investigation? It’s shameful that people who hold some level of authority and control over such incidents do NOTHING to prevent them. I wonder how they sleep at night knowing that innocent children are paying the price of their lethargy/indifference on a daily basis; sometimes even with their lives.

  28. I couldn’t help but cry when I read this. As the mother of a 7 year old gender-creative boy, I worry every single day that his happy-go-lucky attitude will one day turn sour and he will fall deep into depression from the constant bullying. For now I remind my son every single day just how wonderful and perfect he is. My heart and prayers go out to the family of Ronin Shimizu. This is a tragedy that never should have happened. Lori, you are a true inspiration and I’m so greatful to have you as our children’s spokesperson. We live in NYC and would love to do our part to spread the word of acceptance. My email is supergoodybagnyc@gmail.com Would love to talk with you.
    xo, Jill (Max’s mom)
    This is my son Max’s story: http://supergoodybag.com/2014/10/31/my-son-draculaura/

  29. foodradical says:

    I like this because it is an “awareness” read and you are a fabulous advocate and writer for LGBTQ rights, but I don’t like it….I’m sure no words are needed as to why. It’s horrific, sad and completely unacceptable that children endure bullying that adults too often ignore. Thank you for continuing to advocate for equal justice with all people.

  30. LiberalMom says:

    …or the TRANSGENDER CRISIS HOTLINE for children and adults : 877-565-8860.

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