[Shannon Cuttle is an educator, school administrator, safe schools advocate and trainer, community organizer, and policy wonk.]
The official start to back to school this year was on September 7th, the day after Labor Day. Students everywhere packed up new notebooks, crayons and pencils and headed off to school all over the country. Some would start school for the first time and some would come back to another year to familiar faces and surroundings.
Every school year starts out the same with students eagerly anticipating what the school year will bring. No student says this year will be the year that I will be bullied, harassed, assaulted or lose my life.
This school year 76 million students will attend public school according to the U.S. Department of Education. In an average school size of 1,200 students, 240 students a day experience bullying and or harassment. Suicide is the second largest cause of death for people aged (15- 24) and on average, 5,000 teenagers a year take their own life according to the CDC.
In the first 30 days of the 2010-2011 school year, thirteen young people lost their lives due to bullying and harassment. But the number is actually much higher. In the first 30 days of this school year we have only heard about a limited number of students that were LGBT or gender non-conforming and they were only some of the students that have lost their lives to bullying and harassment. In Ohio, a student who was autistic took his life after suffering for years from bullying and harassment at school. A student in Colorado took her life after being bullied for her religion and family background. These are only some of the students, families and communities that have suffered due to not having inclusive safe schools.
This is not a new problem as this epidemic has always been here. That is why the Safe Schools Action Network was created and the National Safe Schools Day of Action that was on October 5th to bring awareness. Creating inclusive safe schools should be a priority for all of us. An inclusive safe school is one where all students, educators and families feel safe at school and on the job from verbal, physical and cyber harassment regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, nationality or minority status, religion, mental health status, disability, immigration status, income status or other.
How do we do this?
By working as a community to not just spread hope through new projects like GSA Network’s Make it Better or Dan Savage’s It Get’s Better, but also creating access to resources for all youth and holding our leaders accountable to demand inclusive safe schools legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. By speaking to your local school board and school administration about inclusive safe schools, reaching out being a mentor/volunteer for youth in your local community GSA, school or college and most of all stand up as a fierce advocate for those that do not have a voice. After all how are we providing true high quality education if our students and educators are not safe in the classroom?
We can make inclusive safe schools a reality for all students, educators and families.We need both hope and action. It will take all of us. Our future is depending on it.
If you are an educator who needs anti- bullying resources: Teaching Tolerance from the Southern Poverty Law Center or GLSEN or National Center for Transgendered Equality or Teaching for Change offer resources for the classroom.