For three years, Lakewood High School students have harassed Alyssa Mullenix emotionally and physically for being a lesbian, according to the Press-Telegram. As a sophomore, Mullenix took a semester off because she felt unsafe.Woodrow Wilson High School senior Daniel Hernandez, 17, said that bystanders do nothing about bullying.“They should do something,” he said. “They are just either too scared or don’t care enough to do anything. I don’t do anything because it’s not my business.”Due to an increase in cases of bullying aimed at the LGBT community, California’s AB 9, A Safe Place to Learn Act, required school districts to update bullying policies to specifically include issues of “sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” However, in a recent article, the Press-Telegram highlighted that Long Beach-area school districts had “ignored” the policy deadline and failed to meet it.
School authorities, however, explain that budget cuts present challenges to schools when addressing issues of bullying.
“We’re at 22,000 students; that’s a good sized district,” said Dr. Robert Jagielski, director of student services for the Downey Unified School District. “What happens a lot of times with all the cuts is things fall through the cracks; there’s no one to do it. In our case, I feel strongly about what we’re doing to address bullying period.”
School districts were to update it’s bullying prevention policies by July 1. But, along with schools being understaffed, the new example model of the policy was allegedly not posted until after the deadline.
California has one of the nation’s lowest returns to educational investment, according to the Sacramento Bee. Because of this, schools throughout California have cancelled various classes and faced understaffed school boards due to layoffs.
“Serious bullying cases – yes, they will always be handled,” said Gonzalo Moraga, principal of instruction at Wilson High School. “But it’s the lower level where there’s just not enough people to handle it. It’ll still be handled, but it’ll take a little longer.”
The Long Beach Unified School District met the policy requirements on July 3, two days past the deadline. As of Sept. 18, the DUSD has met the requirements.
The Safe Place to Learn Act requires that the bullying prevention policies include words that protect bullying against perceived and actual “gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation.”
Despite the rise in bullying against LGBT students, teachers say they still have faith in students’ ability to empathize and cope with the struggles of bullying. In an attempt to prevent the escalation of bullying, teachers collaborate with programs such as Peace Builders, which attempts to establish feelings of respect and empathy, as well as empower students to feel comfortable defending themselves or others.
“Whether or not we thinks a student is being bullied doesn’t matter,” Jagielski said. “If that kid feels like they’re bullied, they’re not going to learn. A safe place is where a kid is not in fear of their life.”
Since opening in 1926, Wilson High School’s motto has been “truth, liberty and tolerance.” Regardless, Wilson High graduate Moraga recalls being “beat up” by fellow students because of his race. Moraga believes that today’s generation is more educated and tolerant toward diversity and even the LGBT community than previous generations.
“[At Wilson], we want to provide a safe learning environment where everyone is valued for who they are,” Moraga said. “Everybody has something to bring; everybody has something to share; and everybody has value.”
Long Beach and surrounding area school districts are not relying on more funds to improve the bullying crisis. Although under-staffing creates problems of promptness in addressing certain cases, authorities say they are hopeful that if they constantly speak to students about bullying, the problem will lessen.
“When you teach kids values of empathy, respect for others, of citizenship and of responsibility, that makes them better kids and less likely to bully,” Moraga continued.
Jagielski put more of an emphasis on empowering not only the victims, but also the bystanders.
“Statistically, one out of every seven kids is either a bully or a victim. Let’s say you have a class of 28, then you have four kids that are either bullies or victims. [We have to empower] the other 24 kids to say, ‘hey, that’s not right,’” Jagielski said.
New America Media’s youth-led VoiceWaves has partnered with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) to produce content for VoiceWaves.org. The Journalism Senior Seminar challenges students to build on their journalism skills covering diverse neighborhoods throughout Long Beach. The CSULB students will report and produce stories that raise awareness of neighborhood issues and concerns in four Long Beach communities: North Long Beach, Central Long Beach, Downtown, and the Westside.