I have no idea what's going to happen in September when we launch Advancing Equality Month at the School Board.
Phillip Parker in Smith County and Jacob Rogers in Cheatham County--young gay men who took their lives after being bullied at school. I think of the students in Haywood County who heard their principal say that their gay peers are going to Hell. The Monroe County student who was assaulted by his principal for wearing a pro-GSA shirt comes to mind. And it's hard to forget the Lenoir City teacher who came under fire for allowing a student to publish a piece saying it's O.K. to be gay. Don't get me started on the discriminatory school legislation at the state level this year.
Yes, we have a severe discrimination problem in many of our state's schools. From students bullying each other to school leaders turning a blind eye or actually participating in the bullying, many Tennessee schools just aren't as safe as they should be.
What's going to happen when citizens go before their school boards in September and call for safer schools? I still don't know.
Here's what could happen:
1. Citizens will gain confidence in standing up for themselves like Kaelynn Malugin, Jeremy Rogers, and Mary Ann Bernicky did in Cheatham County. That led citizens in Sumner County to try the same thing.
2. The quantity and quality of public discourse about safe schools will rise in Tennessee. The coverage of what happened in Cheatham County zig-zagged around the state. Think of the potential of citizens throughout the state speaking up!
3. You never know when it might have an impact on state legislation for the good. One of the interesting things that happened in Cheatham County is the fact that it was noticed by state legislators. State legislators asked about one of the proposals we made to require the school system to provide a monthly public report on bullying incidents. While we didn't get the monthly report requirement, the state is going to require each school district to make an annual report on bullying incidents. The numbers should be eye-opening and may lead to further solutions.
Our hope is that the conversations these citizens initiate will lead to discussions about concrete policy changes their school districts can make so that their schools will be safer.
It's a gamble we ought to take.