Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cheatham County High School dodges questions about anti-LGBT bullying

Will Cheatham County Central High School promote
a "No Bullying Zone" for all students?
Last night, parents, students, concerned citizens and TEP Board members gathered in Ashland City, TN to participate in a meeting about suicide and suicide prevention at Cheatham County Central High School. Representatives from the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network were on hand to provide information. TSPN shared an important resource for anyone who is contemplating suicide or knows someone who is. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number to call for anyone who needs help. Program this number on your mobile phone in case you ever need it.

During the meeting, a TSPN official shared that bullying had nothing to do with Jacob Rogers’ decision to end his life last week; other factors played a greater role. However, parents and students at the meeting were not satisfied with this assessment. Many parents and a student aware of anti-LGBT bullying at the school tried to ask questions about what the school was doing to address the issue. TEP Board member H.G. Stovall asked a pointed question to Principal Glenna Barrow during the brief time that was alloted::

I asked Principal Barrow if the school’s bullying policy included explicit protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. At first, she said it did. I asked her to check the policy which she happened to hold in her hand. She read aloud the protected factors from the Cheatham County Board of Education Policy 6.304 that prohibit discrimination, harassment, bullying, and intimidation that is “sexual, racial, ethnic or religious in nature.” When she realized that sexual orientation and gender identity/expression were not specifically included, she said she interpreted the policy to cover those areas.

The meeting ended abruptly before Stovall could ask Principal Barrow if the the rest of the faculty shared her interpretation of the policy. While Principal Barrow should be applauded for her broad interpretation of the school board’s anti-bullying policy, her response points out a real problem for Cheatham County Schools, including Central High School. Without specific protections for LGBT students, how are staff supposed to know when to intervene when they witness anti-LGBT bullying? What sort of training do school staff receive on bullying? How is intolerance of LGBT students among students and faculty addressed? What safeguards are in place to protect against anti-LGBT bias at the school?

These questions show no signs of going away. Many parents were frustrated by the unwillingness of officials to answer their questions about bullying. Parents and students at last night’s meeting expressed a willingness to continue casting a bright spotlight on an issue they feel is important for ensuring a safe school for students. The school must go further than sharing a 1-800 number to provide protective factors for students who may be bullied, feel depressed or isolated, or be contemplating suicide.

Anyone interested in being a part of this change is encouraged to contact Chris Sanders or H.G. Stovall. TEP stands ready to empower parents and students in Cheatham County in their quest to bring about specific protections. If you have not already done so, I invite you to participate in TEP’s petition to the Cheatham County School Board and District Director calling for policy reform. Then share this petition with your friends and family.

- Jonathan Cole

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