School bullying prevention policy raises questions

Need to call out specific identity groups?

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

In a 3-2 vote, the Gunnison Watershed school district board of directors passed a bullying prevention and education policy that has been required by the state of Colorado. Board members Mandy Roberts and Dave Taylor opposed the action, on grounds that they did not agree with the policy identifying certain groups of people that the school district prohibits from bullying under federal and state discrimination laws. For example, race, color, disability, class, sexual orientation, etc. 

“The state legislature has mandated that by law we have to identify certain groups of people that school districts are prohibited from bullying,” said board president Tyler Martineau. “One of those is transgender children and children questioning their gender identity.”

The Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) had noted that the district could opt to not include the specific classes of students protected in the policy, and Roberts said she favored that option. However, superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols said that the district’s attorney isn’t sure that would hold up on a federal level. 

Earlier that day, Roberts sent the board information and videos regarding transgender children and children who are questioning their gender identity. The specific contents of the videos were not elaborated on during the board discussion.  

“I viewed the videos, they take into account a large range of very important issues regarding how schools, school psychologists and teachers interact with transgender children and children who are questioning their gender identity,” Martineau told Roberts. “The issues in the videos that you raise are very broad and important issues. I see that as a separate issue (from the bullying policy). I would say that this is an issue that a lot of the community will have an interest in and therefore I think it merits being published on the agenda well in advance of the meeting.”

“I want to make it philosophically clear that my cornerstone is…bullying is prohibited against any student for any reason,” said Taylor. “The language should stop there. We are all equal, we are all the same.”

Roberts agreed the language should stop there. “There are children who are hurting and they did major things to their bodies and now as adults they’re hurting,” she said. “This is a big thing, this shouldn’t be taken lightly. Everybody regardless of their title, they just want to be human.”

“The people who are identified in here are particular targets of bullying. They are real targets of bullying historically, that’s why I think they need to be called out here,” said Martineau.

Board member Anne Brookhart also explained that the policy is based on a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stakeholder process that required participation from parents of bullied students. She said that students who applied to listed groups felt safer and more protected against bullying when their identifying group was called out. 

Martineau told Roberts he was fully open to a larger discussion regarding transgender children not related to passing the bullying policy. 

“I want my fellow board members to research,” said Roberts. “There’s a lot to this. Children just want to be children, people just want to be people, they just want to be loved.”

“I think it’s a matter of working to get on the agenda this topic in the way that you want to talk about this,” said Martineau.

“I would like to tread that lightly,” said Roberts. 

It was unclear whether the board plans to put the topic of transgender children on a future meeting agenda. 

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