Tuesday, October 7, 2008

ACLU presents misleading picture of local schools

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) paints a misleading and stereotyped picture of Lake County in its latest members’ bulletin. This from an agency that is supposed to combat prejudice!

Its special campaign issue, which arrived in mailboxes this week, promotes its “Schools for All Campaign: Preventing Bias and Pushout.” Its laudable aim is to prevent disproportionate application of punishments by school administrators against certain groups, and to also prevent the targeting of these groups for bullying by their classmates.

The article is illustrated by recent real-life cases involving Northern California schools. But whereas the first case, involving racial profiling at Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, is specific as to the school and locality, the second incident is specified merely to have taken place in “Lake County.”

For the majority of ACLU’s membership throughout Northern California, this may have been the only account they’ve read of the local settlement. That means every one of our schools in every one of our districts, is tarnished with the reputation of having failed to protect a student from abuse. But this is simply not true.

I think in the interest of accuracy, the ACLU-NC ought to have specified that it reached a settlement with Upper Lake Union Elementary School District.

On nearly every day since he began third grade -- at ULES, not “Lake County” -- a student named Robby was the target of taunts, bullying and anti-gay name calling by his peers based on his gender identity and perceived sexual orientation. The verbal abuse escalated in middle school and Robby was physically attacked after gym class by a group of boys who knocked him to the ground, kicked him in the stomach and head while screaming anti-gay epithets at him.

The write-up continues, accusing “Lake County” school officials of being complacent year after year in allowing a climate of anti-gay harassment and intimidation to continue.

What this account fails to acknowledge is that there are multiple school districts in Lake County, with varying climates of advocacy for the victims of bullying and abuse.

At the very top of the list, I would have to rank Konocti Unified School District with its formal adoption of an anti-bullying policy. When Konocti schools scheduled anti-bullying assemblies, this was “Lake County” too. Or when the district contracted with Monty Roberts to assist in building school climates that are free from violence -- this was also “Lake County.”

What about when Konocti organized a countywide forum with Ruby Payne so that local stakeholders could better understand the challenges ofmgenerational poverty?

This is the “Lake County” that ACLU members will never hear about.

To be fair, I believe there are districts that are in need of improvement -- along with surrounding communities. Even in Konocti, a student was lost to violence in a conflict that took place off-campus.

I cannot vouch for every story I’ve heard about bullying at local schools. But I’ve heard enough that I believe each district ought to adopt formal policies that offer redress against bullying.

Since Konocti’s policy has already been reviewed by schools attorney John Drummond, it ought to be a routine matter to similarly introduce the policy in other local districts. The time is past overdue. We don’t need more misleading coverage -- by the ACLU or by anyone -- to tarnish our collective reputation.

Published Oct. 7, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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