School Board Meets Over Junior High Harassment

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In an emotional and sometimes contentious meeting last night, the Davis Joint Unified School Board agreed to create a climate in our schools where everyone feels safe and accepted. There was little in the way of specifics, but the consensus of the board was to direct the Climate Coordinate Melvin Lewis to create an action plan.

I came away from this meeting with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is clear, very clear in fact that the school board has a commitment and the desire to fix the problems. It was also clear that the intentions are good. What was disturbing however is that I did not get a good sense that they knew what needed to be done. This meeting seemed long on rhetoric–Keltie Jones, the school board president who is openly gay, talked about her dream of a society where the gay lifestyle is accepted on equal footing with the straight lifestyle, where billboards and magazines in society depict same-sex couples just as they do opposite sex couples.

On the other hand, I just don’t know if they really know what to do to fix these sorts of problems. In some ways, this is not even a gay-straight-anti-gay problem, it is as much a problem of bullying and kids possessing the ability to pick on others by going to their most vulnerable spot. And for this young junior high school student, it was the fact that he has gay fathers.

Board member Jim Provenza hit on a key point that got lost in the multiple discussions about what to do. The immediate concern–and Provenza was duly disturbed by this–is that there is a student who does not feel it is safe to come back to school. He came back initially and was harassed again. He then came back on a Monday, and was harassed by one of the same kids who was involved in the first incident and the Principal felt he had no proof this time and let the kid go back to class. This is very disturbing. And this is the part, that I don’t think has been dealt with. I think the district has done a very good job with the bigger picture, but a very poor job with dealing with the immediate concern.

The other really good comments came from Hui-ling Malone, who is the daughter of Reverend Tim Malone and the student member on the board. She talked about the need for students to step out of the spectator’s role. Moreover, teacher’s need to be consistent about enforcing a no tolerance policy towards harassment. It is not enough for them to ask the students to write a reflective essay after the fact, they need to be vigilant and proactive.

Tim Taylor, another board member, emphasized that there is a strong need for a school district to educate. Everyone saw this as an opportunity to educate the students and the parents and the community on these issues.

Everyone on the board clearly seems to have the best of intentions. There was agreement that action needed to be taken, agreement there needs to be more education and the need for it to move beyond tolerance and towards something stronger. The big picture was well addressed but I think the short-term was not focused on nearly enough. The family is upset with how this was handled from a disciplinary standpoint and that seemed to be the weakest area of focus. Everyone has a sense for what to do in the longrun, no one offered much in the way of suggestions for the family to get their son back into school in the shortrun.

In the coming days, we’ll have video clips from this meeting. In the meantime, there was an interesting dichotomy between those who were surprised that this could happen in Davis and those who were not. That’s the bigger lesson that this community needs to take away from such events. It goes back to what Rahim Reed said last week at the HRC meeting–people in Davis tend to bury their heads in the sand and believe that these types of things do not happen here.

The striking thing was the message from the gay and lesbian community that they do not feel welcome in this community–at least some members conveyed that. In the last year, we’ve focused heavily on the minority community in terms of police harassment, but it seems clear that the gay and lesbian community have a number of under-addressed concerns as well that need more focus and scrutiny. If there is a teachable moment on this, perhaps it is this one–that we need to be vigilant, not because the majority of people in Davis are hateful, but because when a minority of people are, it reflects poorly on the rest of us.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “School Board Meets Over Junior High Harassment”

  1. davisite

    The focus here should be on a no tolerance policy with disciplinary consequences. Acceptance is in the province of the individual and, from the community’s perspective, education is key to addressing this. Tolerance without harrassment with real disciplinary consequences should the board’s clear directive. This may be the most politically sensitive issue as parents of the perpetrators may reflexly insist on protecting their own from the consequences of their actions.

  2. davisite

    The focus here should be on a no tolerance policy with disciplinary consequences. Acceptance is in the province of the individual and, from the community’s perspective, education is key to addressing this. Tolerance without harrassment with real disciplinary consequences should the board’s clear directive. This may be the most politically sensitive issue as parents of the perpetrators may reflexly insist on protecting their own from the consequences of their actions.

  3. davisite

    The focus here should be on a no tolerance policy with disciplinary consequences. Acceptance is in the province of the individual and, from the community’s perspective, education is key to addressing this. Tolerance without harrassment with real disciplinary consequences should the board’s clear directive. This may be the most politically sensitive issue as parents of the perpetrators may reflexly insist on protecting their own from the consequences of their actions.

  4. davisite

    The focus here should be on a no tolerance policy with disciplinary consequences. Acceptance is in the province of the individual and, from the community’s perspective, education is key to addressing this. Tolerance without harrassment with real disciplinary consequences should the board’s clear directive. This may be the most politically sensitive issue as parents of the perpetrators may reflexly insist on protecting their own from the consequences of their actions.

  5. Anonymous

    I watched the entire discussion and did not find that the discussion was at all contentious. I thought it was a very good meeting where those present were attempting to grapple with an ongoing problem.

    Emerson Junior High has been dealing with this kind of problem for many years. Junior High kids are a challenge. At Emerson a few years ago, bullying of all types had reached a crisis level. There were 1,000 kids packed into a school built for 650. The teachers and administrators could not be everywhere. Additionally, this is the age where kids start to view adults differently. They risk being labled as “snitches” if they tell on another student with all the resulting pay back. Much of what goes on in junior high goes unreported. We understood that because we were hearing about it, it must be really bad. One report particularly shocked us where it was reported that a ninth grade peer adviser witnessed the attack and did nothing to come to the aid of the victim.

    With our meager funds that the Climate Committee was provided, we sent a teacher off to training over the summer in the “Welcome Everybody” or WEB program. This program established ninth graders as leaders of a small group of 7th graders. The WEB groups participated in activities and events together. Though this seems like it would have a social purpose, we were interested in school safety. A 7th grader was more apt to tell their 9th grade WEB leader about harrassment than a teacher. The ninth grader was more apt to be able to advocate for the 7th grader and stand up to the bully than the 7th grader. It was understood that it would be made clear to the ninth graders who wanted to be peer advisers or WEB leaders, that it came with responsibilites to protect and defend other students, if only to report incidents to the office. Emerson established the first WEB program in Davis the next fall and I believe that it is successful in improving school safety there. The older students are getting educated about the effects of harrassment, what forms it has, and strategies to combat it, and the 7th graders feel safer with 8th & 9th grade mentors to ease their transition from elementary school.

    I am very sorry Zack (the victim at Harper) has been treated so badly. It takes courage to do what he did – report the offenders to the office. He should be thanked by the community for bringing the problem to light. But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.

  6. Anonymous

    I watched the entire discussion and did not find that the discussion was at all contentious. I thought it was a very good meeting where those present were attempting to grapple with an ongoing problem.

    Emerson Junior High has been dealing with this kind of problem for many years. Junior High kids are a challenge. At Emerson a few years ago, bullying of all types had reached a crisis level. There were 1,000 kids packed into a school built for 650. The teachers and administrators could not be everywhere. Additionally, this is the age where kids start to view adults differently. They risk being labled as “snitches” if they tell on another student with all the resulting pay back. Much of what goes on in junior high goes unreported. We understood that because we were hearing about it, it must be really bad. One report particularly shocked us where it was reported that a ninth grade peer adviser witnessed the attack and did nothing to come to the aid of the victim.

    With our meager funds that the Climate Committee was provided, we sent a teacher off to training over the summer in the “Welcome Everybody” or WEB program. This program established ninth graders as leaders of a small group of 7th graders. The WEB groups participated in activities and events together. Though this seems like it would have a social purpose, we were interested in school safety. A 7th grader was more apt to tell their 9th grade WEB leader about harrassment than a teacher. The ninth grader was more apt to be able to advocate for the 7th grader and stand up to the bully than the 7th grader. It was understood that it would be made clear to the ninth graders who wanted to be peer advisers or WEB leaders, that it came with responsibilites to protect and defend other students, if only to report incidents to the office. Emerson established the first WEB program in Davis the next fall and I believe that it is successful in improving school safety there. The older students are getting educated about the effects of harrassment, what forms it has, and strategies to combat it, and the 7th graders feel safer with 8th & 9th grade mentors to ease their transition from elementary school.

    I am very sorry Zack (the victim at Harper) has been treated so badly. It takes courage to do what he did – report the offenders to the office. He should be thanked by the community for bringing the problem to light. But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.

  7. Anonymous

    I watched the entire discussion and did not find that the discussion was at all contentious. I thought it was a very good meeting where those present were attempting to grapple with an ongoing problem.

    Emerson Junior High has been dealing with this kind of problem for many years. Junior High kids are a challenge. At Emerson a few years ago, bullying of all types had reached a crisis level. There were 1,000 kids packed into a school built for 650. The teachers and administrators could not be everywhere. Additionally, this is the age where kids start to view adults differently. They risk being labled as “snitches” if they tell on another student with all the resulting pay back. Much of what goes on in junior high goes unreported. We understood that because we were hearing about it, it must be really bad. One report particularly shocked us where it was reported that a ninth grade peer adviser witnessed the attack and did nothing to come to the aid of the victim.

    With our meager funds that the Climate Committee was provided, we sent a teacher off to training over the summer in the “Welcome Everybody” or WEB program. This program established ninth graders as leaders of a small group of 7th graders. The WEB groups participated in activities and events together. Though this seems like it would have a social purpose, we were interested in school safety. A 7th grader was more apt to tell their 9th grade WEB leader about harrassment than a teacher. The ninth grader was more apt to be able to advocate for the 7th grader and stand up to the bully than the 7th grader. It was understood that it would be made clear to the ninth graders who wanted to be peer advisers or WEB leaders, that it came with responsibilites to protect and defend other students, if only to report incidents to the office. Emerson established the first WEB program in Davis the next fall and I believe that it is successful in improving school safety there. The older students are getting educated about the effects of harrassment, what forms it has, and strategies to combat it, and the 7th graders feel safer with 8th & 9th grade mentors to ease their transition from elementary school.

    I am very sorry Zack (the victim at Harper) has been treated so badly. It takes courage to do what he did – report the offenders to the office. He should be thanked by the community for bringing the problem to light. But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.

  8. Anonymous

    I watched the entire discussion and did not find that the discussion was at all contentious. I thought it was a very good meeting where those present were attempting to grapple with an ongoing problem.

    Emerson Junior High has been dealing with this kind of problem for many years. Junior High kids are a challenge. At Emerson a few years ago, bullying of all types had reached a crisis level. There were 1,000 kids packed into a school built for 650. The teachers and administrators could not be everywhere. Additionally, this is the age where kids start to view adults differently. They risk being labled as “snitches” if they tell on another student with all the resulting pay back. Much of what goes on in junior high goes unreported. We understood that because we were hearing about it, it must be really bad. One report particularly shocked us where it was reported that a ninth grade peer adviser witnessed the attack and did nothing to come to the aid of the victim.

    With our meager funds that the Climate Committee was provided, we sent a teacher off to training over the summer in the “Welcome Everybody” or WEB program. This program established ninth graders as leaders of a small group of 7th graders. The WEB groups participated in activities and events together. Though this seems like it would have a social purpose, we were interested in school safety. A 7th grader was more apt to tell their 9th grade WEB leader about harrassment than a teacher. The ninth grader was more apt to be able to advocate for the 7th grader and stand up to the bully than the 7th grader. It was understood that it would be made clear to the ninth graders who wanted to be peer advisers or WEB leaders, that it came with responsibilites to protect and defend other students, if only to report incidents to the office. Emerson established the first WEB program in Davis the next fall and I believe that it is successful in improving school safety there. The older students are getting educated about the effects of harrassment, what forms it has, and strategies to combat it, and the 7th graders feel safer with 8th & 9th grade mentors to ease their transition from elementary school.

    I am very sorry Zack (the victim at Harper) has been treated so badly. It takes courage to do what he did – report the offenders to the office. He should be thanked by the community for bringing the problem to light. But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.

  9. Doug Paul Davis

    It was a good meeting, and I think a lot of good points were made.

    I wanted to briefly address your point: “But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.”

    I think that is a good point and one that perhaps gets a bit lost in all of this. I tried to make it as well–teenage kids are vicious, they are going to look for any area of vulnerability and go for the jugular. There is no doubt at that and I agree–we should demand more from the kids themselves (and I won’t even single out Harper, because it’s universal, this issue just happened to occur at Harper).

    Unfortunately the process of demanding more from our kids falls on the parents, the teachers, and the administrators. And I understand why this is the case–but the parents of the kids involved to my knowledge were not there at the meeting and part of this discussion. And without them, nothing is going to change.

    I think that the long term steps taken here were good, I just worry about Zack and his parents being comfortable sending him back to school.

  10. Doug Paul Davis

    It was a good meeting, and I think a lot of good points were made.

    I wanted to briefly address your point: “But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.”

    I think that is a good point and one that perhaps gets a bit lost in all of this. I tried to make it as well–teenage kids are vicious, they are going to look for any area of vulnerability and go for the jugular. There is no doubt at that and I agree–we should demand more from the kids themselves (and I won’t even single out Harper, because it’s universal, this issue just happened to occur at Harper).

    Unfortunately the process of demanding more from our kids falls on the parents, the teachers, and the administrators. And I understand why this is the case–but the parents of the kids involved to my knowledge were not there at the meeting and part of this discussion. And without them, nothing is going to change.

    I think that the long term steps taken here were good, I just worry about Zack and his parents being comfortable sending him back to school.

  11. Doug Paul Davis

    It was a good meeting, and I think a lot of good points were made.

    I wanted to briefly address your point: “But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.”

    I think that is a good point and one that perhaps gets a bit lost in all of this. I tried to make it as well–teenage kids are vicious, they are going to look for any area of vulnerability and go for the jugular. There is no doubt at that and I agree–we should demand more from the kids themselves (and I won’t even single out Harper, because it’s universal, this issue just happened to occur at Harper).

    Unfortunately the process of demanding more from our kids falls on the parents, the teachers, and the administrators. And I understand why this is the case–but the parents of the kids involved to my knowledge were not there at the meeting and part of this discussion. And without them, nothing is going to change.

    I think that the long term steps taken here were good, I just worry about Zack and his parents being comfortable sending him back to school.

  12. Doug Paul Davis

    It was a good meeting, and I think a lot of good points were made.

    I wanted to briefly address your point: “But the focus should not just fall on the teachers and administrators. We should demand more from the Harper kids themselves.”

    I think that is a good point and one that perhaps gets a bit lost in all of this. I tried to make it as well–teenage kids are vicious, they are going to look for any area of vulnerability and go for the jugular. There is no doubt at that and I agree–we should demand more from the kids themselves (and I won’t even single out Harper, because it’s universal, this issue just happened to occur at Harper).

    Unfortunately the process of demanding more from our kids falls on the parents, the teachers, and the administrators. And I understand why this is the case–but the parents of the kids involved to my knowledge were not there at the meeting and part of this discussion. And without them, nothing is going to change.

    I think that the long term steps taken here were good, I just worry about Zack and his parents being comfortable sending him back to school.

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