Thursday, September 1, 2011

From the Superintendent: Creating Safe Learning Environments for Our Students

This commentary, by Supt. Bill Kowba, was published in the Aug. 26, 2011, edition of Gay San Diego

Providing a safe learning environment is a critical element that all schools must focus on if we are to achieve our goal of providing our children a quality education.

To reach this goal, The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education created a Safe Schools Task Force to develop strong policies and proceduresfor schools to ensure that our students can interact in a safe and secure learning environment, one free from any threat to their safety and well-being from their peers or any others in the school setting.

The Safe Schools Task Force is made up of citizens, community organizations and district staff who are passionate about eliminating all bullying in all forms on our school campuses. The task force includes representatives from several community organizations, including representatives from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and allied community.

The task force developed and presented a viable new antibullying policy that was adopted by our Board of Education last spring. That policy clearly states in part:

    Board of Education will not tolerate any student or staff member being bullied (including cyber-bullying), harassed, or intimidated in any form at school or school-related events, (including off-campus events, school-sponsored activities, school buses, any events related to school business), or outside of school hours with the intention to be carried out during any of the above.

Over many years, San Diego Unified School District has consistently identified race, gender, religion, and other elements as “protected” groups in our efforts to make schools inclusive and accepting environments for all students. We are now adding LGBT students to this list. It is important to begin and maintain a dialogue about this newly identified group in efforts to make our classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, gymnasiums, and sports settings safer for all.

All students are at risk of being bullied, harassed or called names on campuses, but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students face particularly hostile school environments. LGBT students come in all colors and ethnicities and represent all religious and socioeconomic groups.In our drive to improve the climate for all students, we are not looking to change any stakeholders’ beliefs. Rather we are focusing our work on changing behavior.

Allowing or ignoring LGBT bullying is not acceptable and, in fact, is in opposition to our anti-bullying policy and fundamental to create safe schools. Research has shown that the most effective bullying prevention programs have certain common characteristics, especially a broad-based understanding andconsensus among school staff so that people enforce the same expectations consistently.

As we begin this new school year, I am asking all of our San Diego Unified staff to review the anti-bullying policy and to be vigilant to instances of harassment and bullying. Our expectation is that any bullying situation in theworkplace at our administrative offices or at any of our campuses will be reported immediately so that prompt action is taken to protect our students, staff and parents.

During the next few months, the safe schools task force will be finalizing more detailed administrative procedures for all of us in the district to follow that will help us maintain safe school environments throughout our district.

We will keep the community posted on our progress with this important effort.