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.
Our 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.