To the editor:
When we moved to Geneva in 1979, the school system was part of the attraction. Unfortunately, our younger son was badly bullied, and the schools did not intervene despite our requests for intervention. When the bullying became physical in middle school, we asked Principal Max Minnich to help. His response was to pull our son out of class and tell him to “grow up.” The letter I wrote to the board about this behavior never received a response.
I grew smarter when I became involved in Safe Schools Work in the 1990s, when there were lawsuits forcing schools to be more responsive. So in 2010, when a Geneva student committed suicide after being bullied about his sexual orientation and gender identity, I spoke to the Geneva School Board, urgently requesting meaningful training for all educators. The result: one evening speaker and one mini-session.
Change does not happen with one-off efforts. It requires a sustained, ongoing commitment to training and a clear vision of values. Staff need to practice effective interventions before they’re needed. Research shows that students must feel safe to learn. The primary job of this board is to ensure that all students have the best learning opportunity possible. That means you need to make sure all students are safe to learn.
Yet here we are again. The mother of one of your students has told you how he has been bullied and subjected to racial epithets. Surely the last year has laid bare the systemic racism that supports this bullying, yet it appears that little has been done. I am here, once again, to ask you to honor your commitment to all of your students by providing meaningful training about implicit bias and about how to intervene effectively. I am asking you what your process and protocols are to address bullying and how you might improve them.
Geneva schools served my older son – and no doubt most of their students – well. After more than 35 years, though, we don’t see much progress for students who are bullied. That progress is long overdue. You need to take meaningful and effective action now. We all will be watching.
Ellen Jo Ljung