Lobbyists Battle Gay Bashing
Coalition sees lack of support for some teachers trying to stop incidents
[ALBANY, NY] ? Lobbyists seeking more laws to end anti- gay taunting, threats and violence in schools said Wednesday that teachers sometimes fail to stop hate acts out of fear of losing their jobs or their standing among colleagues.
"Teachers are afraid, they are afraid they'll lose their jobs, they're afraid to be ostracized, just like kids are," said John Meyers, a substitute teacher at a Saratoga Springs BOCES center. He said he and other teachers have tried to stop gay slurs and were falsely labeled gay by students and some teachers.
"We've had teachers involved in the coalition tell us that in fact they've been in that situation ... that they were afraid of how it would affect them," said Ross Levi, spokesman for a coalition of organizations.
The New York State United Teachers union, which is part of the coalition, disputed that.
"I think the vast majority of New York's teachers are caring and compassionate and courageous in doing the right thing," said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn, who said teachers are already backed up by law. "To suggest, however, that teachers as a group are not taking steps to stop anti-gay taunting is, I think, inaccurate."
Meyers spoke as part of the Dignity for All Students Coalition, a group of activists, teachers, parents and others. The group on Wednesday criticized the state Education Department for choosing not to include the group's recommended questions on bias-related aggression in a federal survey of sexual activity, substance abuse, nutrition, the availability of weapons and other issues.
The proposed questions ask if a student in the last 30 days was called names, teased, harassed or attacked because of race, sexuality or perceived sexuality, or because of a disability.
The group also sought to let students describe themselves in the survey as "transgender" instead of male or female and asked students to describe themselves as "heterosexual (straight)," "gay or lesbian," "bisexual" or "not sure."
The group said the state's Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act of 2000 isn't enough to end bias-related aggression. The law was in response to school violence around the country including Colorado's Columbine High School. The law requires school officials to act on threats, including those based on hate.
"The SAVE legislation mandates the reporting of this stuff, it mandates action by school districts," said Tom Dunn of the state Education Department.
Schools will be required to provide those reports beginning this year. The state won't add the questions that the coalition seeks because officials worry the "personal nature" will further erode participation by schools and students, Dunn said.
NYSUT's Korn said the union prefers to leave the wording of such sensitive questions to state and federal experts to protect children.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has sought the information nationwide every two years since 1991. In 2001, too few schools and students participated from New York to make a valid sample, so the state didn't participate, Dunn said. Although the state can add questions, it won't, he said.