When will SFUSD fully implement its vision of safe and supportive schools?
I have been talking about safe schools for decades, literally.
When I first began teaching, it was as a peer resource coordinator at Hoover Middle School. In my job, I recruited middle school student leaders to make a positive difference in their school community. Students at Hoover did peer tutoring, ran clubs, and educated their peers to improve school climate and make the school safer. During that first year, my students presented presentations on topics of importance to them such as addressing racial stereotypes and homophobia.
Years later, I worked again as a peer resource program coordinator at Everett Middle School. This time I also served as violence prevention coordinator for the school. I recruited conflict mediators, convened an annual Peace Day, and supported students in producing a video project addressing relationships, sexual harassment, and gossip.
What I learned in this work with students, is that students want to be a part of the solution. They want to co-create safe and supportive learning environments. When they are included and supported in addressing healthy and inclusive school culture, there is a reduction in violence. Additionally, some students, who may at first seem unengaged, become active participants in the school community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this translate to becoming active in their learning as well.
That year, several of my students were interviewed for a video resource to support schools in talking about bullying called “Let’s Get Real“. I was fortunate to consult on the teacher guide for the video. This was the beginning of my work with school communities across Northern California to prevent violence and bullying in schools.
Over the years, I have seen various approaches to addressing school safety and climate. As educators, our understanding of bullying, harassment, and hate speech have come a long way. The education community has evolved from the Zero Tolerance/Just say, “NO” approach to bullying from my youth to a more nuanced understanding of how to prevent bullying and harassment in the first place. This has shifted from an individual focus on “bullies” to a recognition of the larger school ecosystem at play. Any child can be a bully or be bullied. Bullying behavior also flourishes in schools where students tolerate harassment of peers who are different, or who are members of historically oppressed groups. Students can learn skills to support their peers and move from being bystanders to allies. A school-wide approach includes all students in being a part of the larger solution to create an inclusive and welcoming school culture for every student.
SFUSD has never fully realized the vision of Safe and Supportive Schools
Once my children entered school, I had a front-row seat in advocating for safe schools for my children and their peers. And now as a teen parent, I hear firsthand the challenges and concerns they share.
Let me tell you, with all the expertise I had before I had kids—it’s different when you become a parent.
When I first heard about the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, I was excited at the promise of a policy that included professional learning for educators, a restorative practice approach to school discipline, and partnership with families, students, and staff to establish a welcoming and inclusive culture for all students.
Over the years, I have seen how this policy work from a parent and student perspective. I have also seen how it fails when not staffed or resourced properly.
Recently, student leaders led walkouts at multiple high schools to protest the ways they say our district is failing to keep them safe in regard to sexual harassment and assault. In frustration, some students began posting the names of students allegedly accused of sexual abuse. They did this in flyers posted in bathrooms and also on social media. These actions have, in turn, have caused more pain, upset, and fear, as alleged abusers report they were subsequently targeted and canceled by their peers.
While district staff work to address issues involved in specific cases, all this talk about sexual harassment and subsequent cyberbullying has left me with some nagging questions that will need to be addressed in order to move forward:
- Why did so many students feel they had to walk out of school to make adults take action?
- Why are they choosing social media to “out” cases of abuse?
- With budget cuts looming, how will our district ensure students have the resources and supports they are clearly demanding from our schools?
We clearly have much work to do.
Every school should be a place where students feel welcomed, affirmed, and supported. The Safe and Supportive Schools resolution provides a framework for ensuring school communities have the resources and training to keep kids safe. Unfortunately, our district has continually struggled to realize the full implementation of the resolution.
When I first joined the Board in 2019, a report on the Safe and Supportive Schools was on the agenda. As you can see from this clip from a Regular Board Meeting on January 15, 2019, there were many unanswered questions. Many remain. (Go to 1:41:48 of the video recording to see my questions.)
One year later, during the Board Meeting on January 12, 2021, I again bought up concerns students are sharing with me that SFUSD has not been implementing our Harassment policy with fidelity. SFUSD policy states staff are trained on how to appropriately address sexual harassment. This policy also states students are being educated on how to identify and report it. Students across the district and across the Bay have consistently said this is not happening.
This report on ABC 7 News is just another example of what I’m hearing from students:
Bay Area students organize rallies, walk outs in protest of sexual assault at school
As we have seen over the last few years, my questions and the questions of a new generation of student leaders will not go away until we address them. As former Student Delegate Hines-Foster stated, “lip service” won’t give educators the training they need to educate students about sexual harassment and consent. It won’t inform students and families on how to report it. And it won’t add staffing to schools to support survivors.
Whether or not we know how to answer these challenges, we are called upon to take action. Our children are willing to ask hard questions. They are willing to demand the safe and supportive learning environments they deserve. With a fiscal cliff approaching, and staff reductions looming, funding potential solutions will be even more challenging.
Nonetheless, it is imperative that we stand in solidarity with our students. They are calling on us. We must not let them down.
Watch the January 12, 2021 Regular Board Meeting Presentation on Safe and Supportive Schools
(If the video doesn’t load, click here, and go to 2:57:36)
Watch the January 15, 2019 Regular Board Meeting Presentation on Safe and Supportive Schools
(If the video doesn’t load, click here, and go to 1:41:50)