WS/FC Board of Ed tries to fix one problem, ignores others

WSFCS logoYesterday, The Winston-Salem Journal published an article on the NC State Board of Education Chair’s urging to use religious institutions and programs as a means to help solve some of the academic problems occuring in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System. These problems relate to the poor academic performance of 19 schools across the state, including Carver High School in Winston-Salem.

The article mentions using mentors and after-school programs as well as motivational type programs to aid students with poor academic performance in improving themselves and their chances for an educational future. I guess this move, if a success, would also save the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System a ton of cash if it were to be forced to shut down Carver High School.

In the article, it is mentioned that the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System has let a relgious group, YoungLife, come into to talk to students and mentor them (mostly during lunch and after-school) for years. The Board of Education thinks that this is a great idea… and I do, too. Echoing what was stated in the article, using all of our community resources to aid students in achieving academically is a good thing, as long as no preaching or converting is happening (although it must be said that YoungLife does try to convert students and preach to them). With these possible new programs by community religious organizations, however, some extra caution will have to be taken: All students, regardless of their faith, will need to have access to what will probably turn out to be very valuable services and programs operating as a joint venture between government, faith groups and the community at large.

The article, however, made me think about the current situation of anti-LGBT harassment. My thoughts on the subject were sparked when I read the snippet on YoungLife, which led me to remember my own problems and situations dealing with the “non-school sponsored, student-initiated activities” policy of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System. YoungLife falls under the jurisdiction of that policy, as do groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), gay-straight student groups, political groups (i.e. Teen Republicans, Teen Democrats, etc) and various other political/partisan/faith-based student organizations.

The question that popped into my head while thinking about these things centers not around the validity or constitutionality of using such means as religious groups to enhance student performance, but rather the Board of Education’s willingness to explore participating with some types of outside groups in order to solve problems within the schools, but allowing themselves to continue ignoring (or in some cases, making worse) other situations… like anti-LGBT harassment and prejudice.

If the Board of Education can partner with faith, religious and community groups to stop the decline of academic performance, why can’t they partner with groups like PFLAG Winston-Salem, the gay-straight student organizations and, yes, even faith and religious groups to stop or curb some of the anti-LGBT harassment? If the Board of Education were really concerned about preventing the loss of students (through high school drop outs) and the decline of students’ performance, then the Board would be taking every step humanly possible to make sure all of its students were receiving a fair, equitable, safe and respectful education and school experience. Ignoring the problems surrounding anti-LGBT harassment and prejudice is certainly not going to help in creating safe and respectful school houses.

It is a known fact that 28% of LGBT students, or those students perceived to be LGBT by their peers, drop out of high school due to overwhelming physical, verbal or mental harassment, prejudice and violence. It is also a known fact that teachers and administrators rarely, if ever, intervene when they are witnesses to such acts of harassment, prejudice or violence.

SafeSchoolsNC logo copyright SafeSchoolsNCAccording to a recently published study by SafeSchoolsNC, it is also a known that approximately 64.2% of students report hearing anti-LGBT remarks such as “faggot,” “dyke” or “queer” “frequently or often in school.” That is in comparison to a 2005 report from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) that found 84% of North Carolina students reported hearing terms like “faggot.” GLSEN also recently released its 2005 “State of the States” report on anti-LGBT harassment; Nationally, approximately 75.4% of students report hearing derogatory, anti-LGBT remarks on a frequent to often basis while at school. The most recent national GLSEN report also found that over a third (37.8%) of students surveyed reported experiencing physical harassment while at school based upon both real and perceived sexual orientation.

The numbers are hard to ignore and it frightens me that any member of any school board would ignore the facts and make decisions which continue to allow for more harassment and prejudice directed at its students. In some districts, such as the Rowan-Salisbury School System in Rowan County, NC, the school board even voted to adopt a policy banning the formation of a gay-straight student organization at South Rowan High School and in the rest of the district (See past posts on South Rowan GSA & Rowan Board of Education). If the school board is unwilling to address anti-LGBT harassment in its schools, why should they bother trying to stop other citizens or students from addressing the issue? The same holds true for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

For at least six, almost seven, years now, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education has decided to not only ignore the situation of anti-LGBT harassment, but also has made decisions to allow for its continuance. In some cases, members of the Board have even made statements, either publicly or privately and then leaked to the public, which show their own prejudice and bigotry against LGBT people. Among the most publicly outspoken are Board members Buddy Collins and Jeannie Metcalf, both of which have been the subject of more than one “Anti-Gay Politicians Watch” posts and writings by me (See past posts on Buddy Collins and Jeannie Metcalf).

Even after being approached numerous times in the past decade almost by members of this community (mainly parents, students and religious leaders) about addressing this problem, the Board of Education continues to ignore it. What will it take for the Board of Education to start preventing and curbing anti-LGBT harassment? What will it take for the Board of Education to actually do its job of not only educating our community’s children and youth, but also safeguarding and protecting them while they are learning? Will a student have to be seriously hurt? Will a student have to file a lawsuit? Will a student have to die?

The problem of anti-LGBT harassment is a serious one. The numbers prove it. The Board of Education should be willing to work with just as many community groups in stopping harassment as it is in preventing and solving the poor academic performance of students. But… then again… I’m probably just wasting my time. With an almost completely bigoted Republican Board of Education, LGBT students will continue to suffer and be harassed. The only way change is going to happen with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and School System is if student gets seriously hurt, dies or files a lawsuit. The only other way is if some more student-friendly candidates make it onto the Board in November.

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