Josie Mulvihill and other students in the Norwalk Community School District told the school board on Monday they face racist, homophobic and sexist bullying at school regularly. And they are fed up with it.
Mulvihill and about a dozen other demonstrators, including students, parents and local activists, walked into the board meeting at Lakewood Elementary School to call on the district to change how it addresses discriminatory bullying.
After being told several times by board members and Superintendent D.T. Magee that they would not be allowed to speak, the demonstrators insisted on addressing the board.
“You will sit and you will listen to me. You will listen to us,” Mulvihill, an 18-year-old high school senior, told the board.
The board didn’t ask the demonstrators to leave, but told them they could either submit a public comment form, available on a table near the room’s entrance, or come to the next school board meeting, scheduled for April 12, when a public forum is scheduled for attendees to speak.
Mulvihill, her mother Mindi Mulvihill, and other students spoke about their experiences while the board members sat silent. Josie Mulvihill and others at the meeting said fellow students have threatened them with lynching, called them racial slurs and insulted their appearance.
“This is not OK,” Mindi Mulvihill said. “These kids are our future. The problems continue … and until you make an example of the kids doing this, nothing will change.”
Josie Mulvihill said she had to develop a safety plan because she received death threats. It included staying out of school for three weeks. She said school administrators pushed her to attend school online to avoid the bullying, and that her grades suffered because she does not learn as well online.
“For so many students and others … we are not safe,” she said. “Day in and day out I hated coming here.”
She also read aloud numerous anonymous statements that she said other Norwalk students sent her. Many included details of discriminatory bullying and stories of teachers and school administrators failing to address it.
Mulvihill said one of the things that prompted her and the others to speak up was a proposed “Back the Blue Day” by students who wanted to support local law enforcement.
Mulvihill said the proposal was insensitive because of the current trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering George Floyd. Floyd’s death prompted nationwide protests against racial injustice in the last year.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Magee said the original plan was for students to buy and donate stuffed animals to local law enforcement to use when responding to calls where children experienced traumatic events. He said this was viewed by the district as a way to honor the challenges police officers face and to provide them with tools to address traumatic incidents.
He said the contention came from a poster advertising the event that asked people to wear blue on April 7 to support police. He said after concerns were raised about the timing of this, the posters were removed.
“In conversations with local law enforcement, they are well aware of the situation right now and they are trying to mitigate anything that draws attention to what I would say is ‘picking a side’ right now,” he said.
Magee said the allegations made by Mulhivill and the other students will be reviewed by the school.
Magee said the school’s response to bullying and harassment ultimately depends on if a formal complaint was made to school officials, whether the incident fits Iowa’s definition of bullying and whether parents plan to pursue legal action. If a complaint is filed, the case goes through an assigned investigator.
Harassment and bullying, according to the school’s 2020-2021 student handbook, include any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student based on the individual’s actual or perceived age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status, and which creates an objectively hostile school environment.
Students found guilty of bullying or harassment could receive a warning, suspension, or be recommended for expulsion.
The district recently surveyed students in grades 6-12, parents and community members about diversity, equity and inclusion, and asked how the district can better ensure a safe and secure learning environment. Results of the survey have not yet been made public, but Magee said a report will be given to the school board by May.
Students previously protested what they said was bullying with a walkout in October. Counterprotesters confronted them, and an altercation occurred.
Norwalk isn’t the only school district facing calls to address discriminatory bullying. See Color-Be Change is a group of Indianola residents who came together to call for action after members’ children experienced what they said was racist bullying in the Indianola Community School District.
Josie Mulvihill said she sees many ways the Norwalk School District can change how it addresses racism and bullying. She said it starts by changing the school’s curriculum to teach about racial injustice.
Magee said the district has requested to have Mulvihill meet with the district’s teaching and learning staff but she has not taken the offer. He said the invitation remains open.
She said school officials also need to change how it addresses students found to be bullying others. She said she and other students who are bullied have been punished for defending themselves.
“You guys sit here and you pretend to care about us and you don’t. Because if you did you would have been addressing this,” Mulvihill said during Monday’s meeting.
Josie Mulvihill said she and other students plan to show up and speak again at the next school board meeting so they are not forgotten or ignored.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: ‘We are not safe’: Norwalk student calls on school board to address what she says is discriminatory bullying
Published at Wed, 07 Apr 2021 15:28:00 +0000