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New anti-bullying lessons due by Thanksgiving

Submitted by on 1, August 26, 2009 – 6:00 am6 Comments

020509_18291School district officials laid out their plan Tuesday night to seek out a new set of anti-bullying lessons that will more specifically address bullying based on race, gender, disability and other factors. They hope to have the new lessons set to present to the school board before Thanksgiving.

The board declined to suspend the anti-gay bullying lessons trustees approved in May while the work is taking place. Trustee Trish Spencer put a motion forward to consider holding off on the lessons, which are to be taught in Alameda’s public elementary schools this fall. But it died for lack of a second.

Interim Assistant Superintendent Ruben Zepeda said he’ll put together an advisory committee with a diverse cross-section of the community – including opponents of the anti-gay bullying Lesson 9 – and a staff committee to evaluate instructional materials.

Zepeda said he intends to pull the committee of educators together to review instructional materials in mid-September, and that he wants the advisory committee to discuss the options offered in late October. Lessons would be selected by early November, and Zepeda said he hopes that Superintendent Kirsten Vital will have a recommendation to present to the board at its November 24 meeting.

Vital said the new lessons are being considered because district staff and the community don’t think the district’s current anti-violence curriculum does enough to address bullying based on race, religion and a host of other characteristics that are protected under state law.

“I think we found out that the curriculum is good. But I don’t think it is good enough and we absolutely could do better for our kids,” Vital said.

Spencer asked a string of questions about the just-passed curriculum, including whether it addressed a host of “protected” groups (no), whether the lessons would be taught on a specific date (no), if parents would be notified when the lessons would be taught (no) and whether parents would be able to opt out (the district’s lawyer suggested staff not respond, citing litigation, but the lessons okayed by the board did not come with an opt-out clause).

A “frequently asked questions” document on the lessons is due up on the district’s website this week.

Lesson 9 opponents who came to Tuesday’s School Board meeting said they’re glad the district is creating a committee to expand the curriculum. Still, they questioned the district’s decision to move forward with the lessons this year even though district officials admitted they are lacking.

“I don’t understand why the board would knowingly put the city in chaos while cool minds are prevailing,” said Pastor Dion Evans, who is leading a recall effort against three school board trustees who voted in favor of the lessons (an effort he says will continue – Evans’ group is hosting a town hall at 10 a.m. Saturday at City Hall). Still, he said he’s glad the district is putting together an advisory committee, and he hopes to be part of it.

Vital said she was reluctant to change lessons the board had approved, while one trustee, Tracy Jensen, reiterated her support.

“One of the reasons I supported the curriculum is because I heard from a lot of students who had been bullied,” Jensen said, adding that some of the lessons do address other groups.

Sean Cahill, the parent who sat on the committee that chose the curriculum, said he was glad to see the lessons are moving forward this fall while the district looks for new ones that include more groups. Cahill, who said he’d also be happy to serve on the committee, said the current lessons help correct an historic underrepresentation of gays and their families in school curriculum.

Meanwhile, the district is putting the finishing touches on a support guide for teachers to accompany the lessons, which are part of a broader anti-violence curriculum put in place in 2006 to meet state safe schools mandates.

6 Comments »

  • Jon Spangler says:

    The AUSD and our Board of Education are leading a pioneering effort to eliminate bullying of all kinds, and there are precious few road maps out there for them to follow. The BOE and AUSD staff are to be commended for their exemplary efforts to find and adapt an existing and previously-approved curriculum, the Caring Schools one, to meet the needs of all students in protected classes.

    It is, IMHO, the profound misinterpretation–perhaps willfully by some, especially from outside of Alameda–of that effort that has led to vocal opposition to the AUSD's good-faith efforts in our community. I hope that the recall proponents and other opponents of the district's superb efforts to make all public schools safe from bullying for every student will now cease their recall efforts and await the unveiling of the new and better(?) curriculum in November.

    Alameda's schools are under too much stress–and our students are at risk–due to the Sacramento budget debacles for a recall campaign. Our students and their parents–of every real and perceived orientation, gender, race, nationality, creed, religion, ability, etc.–need safe, healthy schools, and the recall effort will not help reach that goal.

    Neither will suspending the existing Safe Schools curriculum, which the BOE has wisely decided to leave in place in the interim.

    The BOE and AUSD staff deserve our thanks and support for always putting our kids first, not a recall or intervention by carpetbaggers manipulating our community in order to achieve their self-serving and callous political goals.

  • Dave Kirwin says:

    Jon Spangler says:
    1, August 26, 2009 at 10:11 am

    The AUSD and our Board of Education are leading a pioneering effort to
    eliminate bullying of all kinds, and there are precious few road maps out
    there for them to follow.

    -Your kidding right Jon?

    There are plenty of ‘roadmaps’ – there are all kinds of programs being used. Perhaps among the thousands of emails to the District, Mike McMahon’s website, the blogs etc, you only read what you wanted, and skipped all the other posts about other better programs.

    Perhaps you never used Google to see the kinds of acceptable programs that are in use around the entire country. There are some that were put together by a Santa Rosa group that is being used not only across America, but also in about 15 other countries. There is no shortage of options for inclusive programs. Some are used in AUSD schools now – such as ‘Character Matters’. That you ignore the facts, and make such silly remarks is incredible.

    The meeting last night reiterated the fact that the BOE’s decision was a bad one; one that started a whole new problem with its implicit focus protecting only one specific group, and doing so in a way that brought thousands of people to BOE meetings to argue against and for it.

    This is the most divisive thing I can remember for the AUSD community. And a terrible time to do so since we now have to ask for another parcel tax, AND noe we also have throw out the Caring Schools Curriculum because staff allowed a vocal group of minority activists to destroy the ‘open framework’ nature of CSC. It also seems the BOE votes over-stepped the allowable restrictions on what can be done without ‘opt-out’. Why would tax-payers support such wasteful habits when if the BOE followed the outline on McMahon’s website that is supposed to guide decisions which affect constitutional rights, we would have had an outcome that everyone could have agreed to. Too bad too many activists were too hard headed to have a fair or balanced round table discussion. Too bad too many BOE members refused to demand a better solution.

    For me, the foolishness of the BOE vote far outweighs my personal feelings of opposition to the curriculum itself, (especially after the changes made to it), but my youngest is now in 4th grade, and we have a very permissive and open-minded household. I do however realize the political nature of the vote, and that there is no clear right and wrong, and that everybody is not on the same side of any issue. The was a major community division about respecting each other’s rights. Our BOE should have respected that.

    Lesson 9 is the ONLY anti-bullying lesson that specifically protects any
    of the protected classes – you know, “…on the basis of sex, religion,
    nationality, handicaps, race, ethnic group, or, …and this gets longwinded,
    sexual preference, gender, or perceived gender…”

    In short, despite the huge public demonstration against a this pro-LGBTQ
    curriculum for only grades K-5, LGBTQ is now the only protected class that
    has lessons specifically addressing their protection in the entire Caring
    School Curriculum. No lessons specifically address race, ethnicity or
    religion (or any of the others.)
    According to the District’s own statistics, local bullying follows the
    state-wide patterns – Race, ethnicity and religion are the main targets of
    “bullying behavior” There is very little ‘bullying” in Alameda on the LGBT
    issues – and none of it in Elementary school.

    Saying “That’s so gay” is not bullying – it is little kids misusing a term
    they think means “stupid”. (This according to my elementary and middles
    schools children) We can tell them those are things, or sentences we don’t
    say, …because it is against school rules. We don’t have to try to explain
    it any farther to 5, 6 or even 8 year olds.

    I favor having very clear and open discussions and lessons on Sexual
    tolerance, acceptance, and empathy, to improve understanding of all the
    LGBTQ issues, but they should not start until Middle School, and should
    continue thru high school. Such lessons on empathy and understanding
    should also exist for all the other protected statuses as well.

    IMO elementary students if using any kinds of slurs should be told to
    ’stop it’ – they don’t need, and at the younger grades are not capable of,
    philosophic understanding of these issues. It a ‘just say “no”’.

    At the BOE meeting of Aug 25, AUSD reveled that because lesson 9 is the
    only lesson in the Caring School Curriculum that specifically addresses
    issues of a protected class, that AUSD will stop using the curriculum
    soon. They will now be forming a new committee to choose a new curriculum
    that specifically addresses all the protected classes. CSC was chosen
    years ago because it was a suitable framework for teachers to use as their
    judgment allowed.
    Now at great expense and because of poor judgment allowing the specific
    K-5 lessons to support the outspoken LGBTQ activists, it is all just a big
    waste that split the community. (And split the vote for the next needed
    parcel tax) That lack of good judgment is all the reason I need to want to
    dump those members of the BOE who supported dividing the community.

    I absolutely support LGBT issues, I resent being called ‘homophobic’ on
    local blogs because it is so opposite the truth, but the target age of
    K-5, IMO is just not appropriate. At young ages, children need to just be
    “told” what not to do as far as playground conduct. It is a time of
    socialization, true, but also a time they must begin to understand there
    are rules they simply have to follow. As they get older and they can
    understand more, more can be reveled to them in our public schools. As far
    as sexual awareness, “let the children play”, and later in their young
    lives there will be plenty of time for those sexuality lessons.

  • Dave Kirwin says:

    Susan,

    Perhaps you missed the BOE meeting this week where it was made abundantly clear, repeatedly, over and over again – like beating your dead horse – that Lesson 9 is the ONLY lesson in the entire CSC that explicitly deals with any of the protected classes! I tried to make that clear – how could you miss it? (Are you planning to take Jenson's spot on the Board? You have the same gift of denial.)

    The regrettable decision of the BOE to allow the desires of Sean Cahill and his committee to have sole powers for determining how and what is included in the pro-LGBTQ curriculum for K-5 also means that only one of the 'protected statuses' will have specific lessons geared toward protecting them from bullying. How many times did Superintendant Vital repeat that at Tuesday’s meeting? Really so many times I lost count…Also like I stated, AUSD will now be dropping the entire CSC curriculum and have to spend time and money searching for a replacement and retraining teachers, staff etc .

    Actually it is more likely that teachers and staff will still not get the training they had been requesting when this new curriculum was substituted for the training the teachers were asking for.

    I wonder if the Superintendant has learned the importance of not allowing 'exclusive committees " to determine what will be taught to our kids. Maybe this whole horrible scene was a 'teachable moment' for her too.

    The real issue for me is still “How does staff, or you, deal with these situations you say you witnessed?”

    Did the negative behavior you witnessed follow the pattern of the city and the state as far as the amount of harassment based on race, ethnicity, religion, LGBTQ, handicaps etc? How did you real with these issues. How did the district train you before you were allowed to supervise playgrounds? Isn't that the training the teachers were asking for?

  • Susan Davis says:

    David,

    Your statement “There is very little ‘bullying” in Alameda on the LGBT
    issues – and none of it in Elementary school” is false.

    During the public meetings about the curriculum last spring, a number of people who either work in the district, volunteer at the elementary schools, or are parenting as same-gender couples noted that they have witnessed children using the words “gay” or “fag” to bully other children. To say that this did not happen just because it wasn’t reported to the district office is ridiculous. As a volunteer noon supervisor, I couldn’t possibly report every instance of bullying that I witness on the playground — it happens too fast, too spontaneously, and too often.

    Your statement that elementary school children think “gay” just means “stupid” is also false. When I have questioned first and second graders using that term on the playground they have said things like, “boys who love boys” or “man-love.”

    Finally, your continued complaining that other protected classes aren’t included in the curriculum is out of date. Even last May, Superintendent Vital promised to have staff look at the curriculum and find ways to expand it; this week she announced that a formal plan had been created for that work. You’re basically beating a dead horse at this point. Or rather, you’re beating a horse that’s already stood up and walked away.

  • Susan Davis says:

    David,

    Here's how I see it: Lesson 9 was the first anti-bullying lesson to specifically address a protected class. During the public meetings last spring, it became clear that other protected classes should also be addressed. In other words, the Board of Ed and district staff heard the complaints of the community and responded.

    I see that as a good thing.

    By the same token, it seems clear that the district has heard the complaint that the previous committee was too small and is now working to redress that problem. Again, the district heard the complaints and is responding.

    To continue to complain about problems in the original process — when the district is working to solve those problems — makes no sense to me. It's like complaining that potholes developed on your street — long after the city filled them in, in response to your request.

    Why not throw your energy into supporting the district's efforts to improve its anti-bullying programs? Or, for that matter, support the district in its laudable Master Plan process? It puzzles me that you are so often the voice of criticism and bitterness, when there is so much good, exciting work that you could focus on instead.

  • Dave Kirwin says:

    Susan,

    It is obvious to me the District is not wiling to listen, despite the show they sometimes out on.

    Did you read what they are saying is important to parents? Funny I saw nothing about "quality education". We will see if the do provide "openness & accountability", but despite hopes, I've little reason for positive expectations.

    No one said the Lesson 9 committee was too small; almost universally it was called "1-sided". Big Difference. Fighting the will of the community is no way to pass a parcel tax. Don't you see that? It would have been more progressive to take smaller or slower steps toward providing a better LGBT-positive space in our schools.

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