Commentary

April 12, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 19

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 

 

By Dr. Coy Flowers

Next Friday, April 19, is the national student-led “Day of Silence,” during which students across the country will take a vow of silence to illustrate the negative effect of bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in schools.

Research proves that students are not able to study effectively in school when they are the targets of bullying and harassment. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students and the sponsor of the “Day of Silence,” nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school. Additional research by GLSEN indicates that more than 30 percent of students report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety. Further, two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were due to actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Stories of anti-LGBT bullying are all too common in West Virginia. Student Michael White, a resident of rural West Virginia, was tormented by fellow classmates simply for being honest about who he was. With no one to turn to, Michael suffered in silence as he faced threats on his life and physical assault at school. Fortunately, after graduating from the West Virginia public school system, Michael was willing to share his story and shed light on the harsh reality for LGBT students.

The silent suffering of LGBT students across West Virginia is one of the reasons Fairness West Virginia, the statewide LGBT civil rights advocacy group, works to protect all students. All too often, in West Virginia and throughout this country, students are forced to cope with an unyielding barrage of personal attacks. It’s for all of those students, whom we would never know except for their heartbreaking stories, that Fairness West Virginia fights for a better, safer future.

Participants of this year’s “Day of Silence” have a reason to be more hopeful that bullying in our schools is finally being addressed in an appropriate and effective manner due to the unanimous passing of the West Virginia Board of Education’s Policy 4373, “Expected Behaviors in Safe and Supportive Schools,” in 2011. This policy includes an enumerated reporting requirement that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as documentable causes of bullying in West Virginia’s schools. Wade Linger, president of the board, stated publicly that this policy is right for West Virginia because “all students should be uniformly subjected to anti-bullying policies that broadly prohibit bullying against all students.”

Specifically, Policy 4373 says that “acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics, shall be reported using the following list: race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; socioeconomic status; academic status; gender identity or expression; physical appearance; sexual orientation; mental/physical/developmental/sensory disability; or other characteristic.”

When issuing this policy, the state board stated that it recognized the need for students, teachers, administrators and other school personnel to have a safe and supportive educational environment. Additionally, the board believed that public schools should undertake proactive, preventive approaches to regulation such as requiring county school boards of education to design and implement procedures that create and support safe learning environments. The passage of Policy 4373 ensures that LGBT students are finally protected in our state’s public school system. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, the action of the state board brought West Virginia into line with the majority of states that include enumerated categories in their anti-bullying policies.

Since Policy 4373 went into effect nearly a year ago, a vast majority of West Virginia’s county school boards have made great strides in adopting and implementing an enumerated reporting requirement regarding bullying. Further, Putnam and Berkeley counties have already implemented proactive policies proven in prior research to reduce incidents of bullying. Equally exciting, as data from across the state are compiled with the state board and the West Virginia Department of Education, we will finally be able to measure the true size and scope of the bullying problem in West Virginia, enabling us to better focus efforts to combat this problem.

Fairness West Virginia calls upon the West Virginia Board of Education and all county school boards to continue to make data-driven decisions to improve Policy 4373 and all individual county policies. Enacting stronger policies that remove any question as to whether students are protected in their schools because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is critical to the prevention of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of LGBT students – and all students – so that West Virginia can provide a safe learning environment for all students.

Dr. Coy Flowers, a native of Barboursville, is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who is in private practice in southern West Virginia. Coy currently serves as the president of the board of directors of Fairness West Virginia, www.fairnesswv.org.