I work with you and respect you. But I’m begging you to stop downplaying bullying, especially when it happens to already marginalized youth

Martie Sirois
Sep 2 · 25 min read
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Dear Teachers Everywhere: I know you’re heroes. I know how much work you do and for how small a paycheck. I know how little respect you get, and how great your responsibilities are. Your job no longer requires just a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate; it requires a superhuman cape. We continue losing more resources and funding, and thus, you’re required to wear even more hats.

It’s not enough to just be a teacher who teaches anymore. You also play the roles of surrogate parent, counselor, mediator, time management expert, event planner, behavioral specialist, bookkeeper, first aid giver, tech guru, developer of resources, assessor and data analyst, and much more, and you’re expected to do all of this while simultaneously portraying the image of an upstanding community role model at all times, everywhere — including on social media.

Look, I get how awful the circumstances can be on many levels, and I know you don’t need to be asked to manage one more thing. I know because I work alongside you. I see it, I get it, I know how hard it is.

For years, I’ve worked as an instructional assistant in the resource department of special ed, where a lot of the positions are touch-and-go, based on arbitrary head count numbers and an overabundance of data — data, all the time, and seemingly too much of it.

I see the additional paperwork, meetings, and other work that keeps piling onto your plate with each passing year, and I see how nothing is ever taken off of your plate in exchange.

I see how the behavior problems seem to escalate to new highs year after year, and how, often, you feel so consumed with managing these behaviors that you feel you don’t get to do much of the thing you signed up to do in the first place: teaching.

But I also know that you entered this career to change lives for the better, and I see that you stay in this field, despite all the negatives, because you have a passion for what you do and a genuine love of the students with whom you work.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

I validate you; I bear witness daily to the love, care, and attention you give the students. And even though I’m just an instructional assistant with a fraction of your workload, I, too, feel overwhelmed. Because along with the “assistant” title comes other burdens, such as the fact that a few teachers look down on us like we’re dirt, and some of them outright mistreat us. During my first full year working in the public school system as a regular ed IA, I was placed with a notoriously abusive, power hungry, manipulative, awful bully of a teacher who seemed to gain happiness and satisfaction from mistreating others — students and “lower” staff members alike — anyone she perceived as being less worthy in some way.

I feel the overwhelming pressure that all us IAs feel in keeping hourly timesheets, although we’re technically “salaried,” and we aren’t allowed to go into overtime (though we often do, out of necessity — but for no pay).

There’s also the fact that, for those of us who are instructional assistants in special ed, we must ensure that a substitute is secured if we’re going to be absent — along with submitting our schedules, itineraries, and/or lesson plans, even though regular ed instructional assistants aren’t expected to do this. And, there’s the fact that regular ed instructional assistants who are asked to sub for a classroom teacher make the substitute teacher hourly rate (equalling a bump in hourly pay), but those of us IAs in special ed do not receive that bump in pay if/when we’re asked to sub, or cover regular ed classes, like while teachers are in IEP (individualized education program) meetings for special ed students.

When it comes to handling paperwork and discipline, we have even less rights and recognition than teachers have in the classroom. And, of course, there’s that much smaller paycheck thing.

The point is, it’s all relative; what I’m asked to do for the amount of pay is equally as pitiful as what you’re asked to do for the amount of pay.


First and foremost, like many of you, I’m a parent. Before a writer, before a speaker, before my job in education which I have to supplement my family’s income. Speaking of income, my husband and I both work two jobs (we each work one full time, and one part time job) so we can afford to pay our basic bills for a family of five, and I know several other instructional assistants who can say the same. So we really are as overworked and overtired as you are. Which is all just to say, I get it. I feel you.

Regardless, before all of this, I’m a parent — always first and foremost. And my perspective on the whole issue of harassment and bullying is somewhat unique because I’m a parent with three kids who’ve experienced differing levels of harassment and bullying in school, but I’m also your coworker.

I’m the other adult who sees firsthand what goes on inside the classroom, and I’m the other adult who shares your frustration over the many long emails received from parents regarding this very issue — whether they’re correct or incorrect about the alleged harassment and bullying happening to their kids. So, I see both sides, often, in real time.

As a colleague, I’m asking you to consider things from my viewpoint — as a parent, first — a parent who’s entrusting the safety of her kids to your care.

Image by witwiccan from Pixabay

I know schools in general deal with many sensitive and difficult situations with parents and students alike, and sometimes, it’s easy to write off certain “squeaky wheels” as overdramatic, chronic complainers, perfectionists, helicopter parents, know-it-alls, general pains in the butt, or whatever. But I’m hoping, because you know me as your co-worker, you also know my work ethic. You know I’m sensible and fair, and you know I’m good at my job. You know I care deeply for these students; I hope that’s evident to everyone. You also know me more personally. We’ve shared stories, laughs, dinners, advice, and even tears.

But today, I’m writing from the perspective of a very tired, worn out, mentally and physically exhausted parent. Exhausted from perpetually feeling powerless against a school system that’s armed to the teeth with highly capable, expert lawyers of their own, and is, at its core, very political in nature. I understand that many of us in public education work with the dangling threats of potential lawsuits that might strike at any moment, but I want you to know, parents also fear the school system’s power.

As a parent, I must say up front that I’m pretty irked at the climate of public schools in general right now. As an educator, I’m frustrated just like you are. But one thing we’ve all committed to do as professionals, and yet another one of those roles we play as educators is that we’re expected to be life-long learners. Please learn from my experiences as a parent.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I’m the mom of three. My oldest is in his second year of college; my middle child is a high school senior, applying to colleges now. Both of them work demanding part-time jobs outside of school, pay for their own stuff, are well-discliplined, and have solid work ethics. They both endured some amount of verbal and physical aggression throughout middle school, and into high school, for my daughter.

My son was teased for being “the fat kid” throughout middle school — although looking at him now, you’d never know any of this; he was on medication for a neurological condition called Tourette’s syndrome, which in turn, caused him to have a voracious appetite and gain lots of weight really fast. The Tourette’s was leading to extreme anxiety, and the choice to go on medication to “cool things down,” as his neurologist said, was an easy choice when his conditions began interfering with his ability to function in elementary school.

In 4th grade, he was tested and labeled as “academically gifted,” for which he began receiving extra academic services and opportunities. It came as no surprise to my husband and me; he’d always had quick wit, confidence without being cocky, and a mind capable of thwarting any insult with intelligent, dry humor. But over the years, the teasing for being different — for being chubby, for having tics, for whatever weakness he was perceived to have — took a great toll on him, though any casual observer wouldn’t have realized it.

My daughter is 22 months younger than my son. She’s always been spunky, independent, quirky, and artistically gifted. She has always also been shy, modest, and, at times, what some might think of as being socially awkward — something she was harassed for terribly in middle school. She and my husband are very much alike and have always understood each other on that level, while I’ve remained more curious about it.

Regardless, I’ve always admired her for her immense strength, her thirst for adventure, and her fierce independence — things I definitely hadn’t mastered at her age. Over the years, I’ve come to understand her quirks as being less about “social awkwardness,” and more about a deep, internal satisfaction of not needing to find her happiness in anyone but herself. But still, that doesn’t mean the harassment and bullying didn’t get to her.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

She was cyber-bullied in 8th grade by a classmate. This came after the fact that someone from this same girl group had, during class, held a hot glue gun to my daughter’s leg, which seared a hole through her jeans and left a burn scar on her upper thigh. Later, while watching the superbowl with her best friend and posting cheers for their teams on Snapchat, another girl from this same group warned my daughter to quit posting, in her words, “before you get shot.”

These words were written in white on a simple black background on Snapchat — no laughing emojis, no “winky face.” Although this girl probably didn’t mean her comment literally, it also definitely was not “a joke.” These incidents (among others) were handled at school, sort of. In short, life moves on, and we ended up moving past it.

What’s more troubling is what she’s endured in high school.


My daughter was sexually assaulted on her high school campus, in the corner of a hallway between classes, during school hours, on a school day. It was a male student only a little older than her who she only knew casually, and she kept the incident as a secret to herself for months, until a friend urged her — begged her — to tell someone. I didn’t even know at that point.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, she went to the assistant principal (an older, white male), and recounted the incident to him. As if this weren’t awkward enough on its own merit, adding insult to injury was how shy and modest my daughter is. She was terrified, but she did it. And her coming forward prompted an investigation, in which twelve other girls found the bravery to come forward, many of whom were sexually assaulted in much more vulgar ways than my daughter.

Image from Pixabay

Unfortunately, the whole saga was long and drawn out. By the time the school involved my husband and me, it had been months after the original assault. My daughter had to recount her story over and over again, often to older white males, in painful detail. As I sat with her one day in an office conference room, speaking to the SRO, I could see her legs shaking under the table. I had to look away so she wouldn’t see my tears.

The student who assaulted my daughter and the twelve other girls was eventually arrested, since he was of legal age, and he was removed from the school. We were told he wouldn’t be back. Our daughter began healing and going on with her life.

We later received a letter from the school notifying us of our right to put our daughter in a different school. “Hell no,” we said. “She’s staying put. Her whole life is basically there.” And of course, she had no desire to move and leave her friends and activities, especially going into her junior year.

Throughout that summer, my husband and I played phone tag with the District Attorney’s office. After they initially called my husband to ask how we wanted to proceed with the case, my husband reiterated his intent to have me present before we discussed it any further. This was something we’d talked about and both agreed on — that both of us should be united in our approach moving forward.

I got home from work and we spoke briefly before returning the call to the DA’s office. From that point on, all of our return calls went straight to voicemail. We couldn’t get anyone to call us back. We reached out to friend who was a long-time victim’s advocate, and she gave us advice, as well as expressing the lunacy of how this whole thing was being handled in the first place.

We spoke with lawyers. But continuing to deal with this was wearing everyone down — most of all, our daughter, who just wanted to move on. So after a while, we quit calling the D.A.’s office. In hindsight, I wish we wouldn’t have. But this was all so new to us; we naively figured someone would call us back when they could.

On her first day of school, junior year, the student who sexually assaulted her (and at least 12 other girls) was back at school. My daughter’s best friend rode his bus, and the moment she saw him get on, she texted my daughter. I then got a frantic text from my daughter, in the middle of a special ed meeting I was attending.

The entire fight began again, just when we’d thought it was finally over.

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

My daughter had classes directly across the hall from her assaulter. She hatched plans with her friends so that she’d never be alone in the halls whenever they had classes in close proximity. The fear of retaliation is a very real thing, and it was always in the background. The wonderful SRO we’d been working with — who basically served as our lifeline — had been assigned to a different high school, so he was no longer available to help.

The school administration wouldn’t respond to any of our calls and concerns about this student being in close proximity to our daughter, let alone, at the same school, when we’d just the year prior been told he wouldn’t be back.

My husband, at one point was told by administration, “Everyone deserves a second chance.” Not that we disagreed with the sentiment, but we definitely wanted the school to stop putting him in her direct line of sight throughout the day, as it was re-traumatizing her.

The last straw came later in the year when the school placed this students and my daughter in the same small testing room for the S.A.T. My husband spoke to administration and was successful in getting them to at least move the male student to a different room, but they wouldn’t give us any more information regarding the case (or why/how he was allowed back at this school), since we couldn’t remember his last name at the time — something I’d thought was arbitrary. I knew we had it stashed away in our files, but none of us wanted to dig all that up again. We already had given up hope and felt injustice had prevailed; for our daughter’s sake, we just wanted to protect her and not involve her anymore than necessary.

We ended up having to put a 504 plan in place, which is an educational accommodation that allows her one thing: the option to take all tests in a separate room with a teacher, without other students, or, with a mimimal number of students. In my state, 504 plans are typically made for students who have specific needs like “separate testing environment,” for a variety of conditions — anything from ADHD or OHI (other health impairment) — but isn’t as specialized as an IEP (individualized education plan).

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Going into her senior year, with this 504 plan, she finally has a concrete way that the school has to legally comply when it comes to dealing with just this one issue. And even that took almost an act of congress, along with a year and a half of planning, phone calls, and meetings.

I’m tired. My husband is tired. We’re all tired. Tired of fighting battles in a world that always seemed stacked against you. And I haven’t even gotten to my youngest child’s story yet.


My youngest, a middle schooler, is transgender. This child was assigned male at birth, but has always expressed feminine, and socially transitioned to express in line with their gender identity throughout 5th grade. My child would love it if everyone could use non-binary pronouns, “they/them,” but since most people outside the trans community in my area don’t “get” this at all, my child also accepts going by “she/her.”

I don’t expect any of their teachers to know this, but the list of things parents of trans kids have to worry about are things I never even considered with my older two, who are both cisgender. And having one of each (a cisgender boy, a cisgender girl, and a transgender child), I’ve really learned the unique struggles and celebrations of all genders, including those beyond the binary.

I thought it was bad enough when my oldest was picked on for being “the fat kid,” or the kid with a misunderstood condition — Tourette’s syndrome. Until later, when my daughter was physically tortured. From being deliberately burned with a hot glue gun in class, to being cyber-bullied and threatened with gun violence (that apparently was meant as “a joke”), and later, when she was sexually assaulted in high school. When the perpetrator of her sexual assault always appeared to have more rights than my daughter, we didn’t think it could get much worse.

But the thing is, both of these two kids had something in common with basically everyone else, and that was the privilege of being cisgender and heterosexual. Being society’s “default norm,” in addition to being white, they were pretty well insulated in school and society, for the most part. Yet still, what they went through was hell enough. But if even one of those factors — gener identity, sexual orientation, or race — were stacked against them, thus putting them in a minority or marginalized group, I guarantee that their lives would’ve been worse than hell.

Transgender students in America face unique difficulties and are at a far higher risk of attempting or completing suicide by age 20 than any other subset of students. Add to that the condition of having been born black, and the risk of being violently attacked or even killed — especially for black trans women — is significantly higher. And the thing is, trans youth face these difficulties and risks even when they have the backing of a supportive family, like my husband and I, and our two older teens who actively support their younger sibling.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Knowing the risks, it’s especially important that we follow the guidance of all major medical and mental health organizations, and adopt affirming practices to save this vulnerable population of youth. A few of those position statements of support can be found here, from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), here, from the American Academy of Nursing, here, from the AMA (American Medical Association), here, from the American Psychiatric Association, here, from the APA (American Psychological Association), here, from the APHA (American Public Health Association), here, from the Endocrine Society, here, from the AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), and here, from the WMA(World Medical Association).

There was a day in 7th grade when my youngest came home in tears. I mean, this happened often anyway, but on that particular day, it was really bad. The harassment and bullying they experience daily (which is ongoing) for being “different” was really on overdrive last year. They explained to me what happened, and I responded to the teacher:

Hello,

Our child CC told us about a situation today with fellow classmate M, specifically, that you had directed M to sit next to CC in your class, and that M refused to comply, and said in front of the whole class, repeatedly, “but, I don’t like her” while staring directly at CC. She told us that M refused to sit next to her, again stating (for the whole class to hear) “I don’t like her! I’m not sitting there!”


(Side note):

I use “she/her” in this correspondence, because as I mentioned before, people seem to have a real hard time understanding trans issues in general, let alone, non-binary pronouns. This, combined with our child’s female expression and appearance (plus the fact that they’re assumed to be cis female everywhere we go) makes them comfortable with going by she/her at school and other places. This is why I switch back and forth from they/them to she/her.

As my child recounted this story to me in the car on the way home, I asked them, “what did you do or say when this was happening?” My child responded, “I was so embarassed. I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there, looking down, feeling embarassed, feeling my face get hot. Wanting to scream. But I didn’t — I couldn’t — say or do anything.”


(email, cont’d):

I know you’re a newer staff member and may not be aware of an incident that happened with M and CC earlier this year. Shortly before winter break, M attempted to physically assault CC. After weeks of repeated verbal slights, and a day of microaggressions and full-on outbursts directed at CC, M walked over to CC, got in her personal space, pointed his finger in her face, and called CC a “b*tch.” Then, he kicked directly at CC’s leg in an apparent attempt to sweep her leg out from under her.

Fortunately, CC’s backpack and lunch box absorbed most of the blow from M’s foot. CC, along with students who witnessed the incident all clearly understood that M was attempting to “take out” CC’s leg. I’d like you to understand that these were unprovoked attacks; CC neither did nor said anything derogatory to M, and did not deserve this act of aggression. Allegedly, M was upset that CC didn’t do a “good enough job” for the team during P.E. in a class game of ultimate frisbee.

We didn’t learn of the incident right away, but fortunately, CC had a therapy appointment soon after and shared this incident with her therapist, and later, with us. My husband and I already had a meeting at the school scheduled with the principal, assistant principal, school counselor, and CC’s therapist (who participated via phone). CC is a transgender student, so the main objective of this meeting was to update and collaborate with the many newer staff members regarding CC’s Gender Support Plan, which we put in place in 2017.

We were able to address this incident during our meeting, and we fleshed out all the details as reported by our child to my husband and me, to her therapist, to her teacher, and CC’s designated “safe person” on campus. We were told the situation had been handled appropriately, and the student in question had admitted what he did and expressed remorse. My husband and I relayed our concern over the potential for this — or anything worse — to happen again in the future, as M has exhibited a pattern of verbal aggression towards CC already, even before the attempt to physically assault her.

At the end of that meeting, we all agreed it was in everyone’s best interest going forward that CC never be made to sit beside/near this student, or made to partner with him, or anything else like that which would put CC in an uncomfortable situation with this specific student — and others who have engaged in the targeted harassing of CC.

CC has verbalized being scared of M on several occasions due to his towering physical appearance which he uses to posture and intimidate, and his tendency towards hostile aggression. CC still feels scared. After what happened in class today (as CC told us), she was not only uncomfortable, but extremely embarrassed as M refused to sit next to her while also arguing and repeatedly saying, “I don’t like her! I’m not sitting there!”

CC told us that you then said to her, “Oh, don’t worry; he’s going to sit there” before taking M into the hallway for a private discussion — after which, he came back into the room and finally, begrudgingly, sat down next to CC, huffing and puffing, glaring at CC, and just generally making things extremely uncomfortable. Certainly, a hostile learning environment was established for CC in those moments.

My husband & I have found ourselves in a place where we’ve had to advocate for CC sometimes, as she doesn’t always fully understand the scope of the protections she’s entitled to, just as any other student is entitled to.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments, and especially as a marginalized/transgender student, CC has the right to be treated as her gender identity, to be called by the name and pronouns that match her gender identity, to not be bullied or harassed at school, and to use restrooms and locker rooms that match her gender identity without being forced to use separate facilities, among other rights.

M, along with a handful of other boys, have been subtly (and sometimes, overtly) harassing CC for the duration of this school year so far. Whether it’s making gagging and puking sounds and then laughing every time CC gets up to speak or give a presentation, or getting in her face and calling her a b*tch, or threatening her (specifically, “next time, you’d better participate… or else” during P.E. class — a particularly stressful and hellish class for CC already, for several reasons), or attempting to physically assault her, we feel this is all obviously harassment, if not bullying.

CC has asked us to please reach out to you via email and make a request that she not be made to sit next to or work directly with M going forward. Please let us know if we can expect this accommodation to be made. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter, and please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.


I was thankful that this teacher replied to us the next morning and seemed happy to make the accommodation, though it brought to mind a larger concern, and that was: what happened to the plan that administration worked out with us and put into place whereby CC wouldn’t have to ever sit beside or near M again? The plan we just put into place a couple months ago? Were we just being given lip service by administration? Again? It was bad enough with our older daughter. This now was feeling more like a pattern with our school system.

I always try to assume positive intent, but it’s getting harder as the years go by and we find ourselves doing this advocacy dance over and over and over again. Every time we’ve met with administrative teams and counselors and school psychologists, we leave with a great feeling of peace and progress. Of course, our school system as a whole continues to be woefully behind on best practices for transgender students, but somehow we always get the feeling they’re willing and happy to be affirming and supportive. But they certainly don’t make any effort to be such until parents of trans students are essentially forced to demand meetings and put things like gender support plans in place.


A few days later, I was speaking with my child about how this played out, specifically, how the teacher responded following our communication. CC told me, “yeah, I’m not sitting next to him anymore.” I asked, “Did the teacher make you move, or M move?” CC responded, “She moved my seat… I came into class and she said, ‘Here’s where you sit now.’”

I asked where that was, and CC told me, “next to A.” (A is another male student, and among the group of boys who have been hateful to CC, calling her names such as “monster,” and making her feel, in her own words, “like a rabid dog who shouldn’t be allowed to cross over the line to their side.”)

I said, “I don’t think it’s right that you were made to move instead of M, and also, I don’t get why this teacher didn’t just put you next to a girl.” CC responded, “Because we have to sit boy/girl/boy/girl in her class.”

Hearing this part made me absolutely livid. I tried not to overreact in the car in front of my child, but instead tried to focus on filing it away as yet another incident to document on a growing list of microaggressions against transgender students — many of whom teachers don’t even know are transgender, because they aren’t “out.” It’s bad enough that elementary schools engage in so much gender segregation and gender policing, but it’s a whole different level when teachers are making students continue to do this well into middle school.

This is definitely not best practice. If the theory behind it is that sitting boy/girl/boy/girl will help the teacher control noise levels and manage the classroom, I’d like to personally invite them to travel back thirty years or so and watch how awful my best male friend and I behaved sitting next to each other in class — way more obnoxiously than I would’ve behaved beside another female.

But more importantly, when you have a trans non-binary student, and they are told “boys over here, girls over there,” (which happens way more often than most parents would think — I once counted 42 separated instances of overt and subtle gender segregation happening in my own school, across grades… 42 instances, which all happened before lunch time), it’s like a sucker punch to the gut. It’s a huge microaggression and another daily reminder where adults in charge are telling these kids, “you don’t exist.”

Image by Efes Kitap from Pixabay

Using gender to divide children up seems tiny and insignificant. And it can be quick and convenient, but unfortunately, it’s actually harmful because it constantly reinforces the notion that being a boy or a girl is the most important thing about them. It also reinforces outdated stereotypes. There are so many other ways to split up groups of kids, or to assign partner work: for younger kids, line them up by shoe or shirt color, alphabetically, by birth month, assigned number, eye color, favorite game, favorite food, etc. These are subtle but powerful tools to help children start to think about their identities in more ways than just one.

As educators, we need to be challenging gender stereotypes every time we hear them in the classroom. When one student tells another, “you can’t play with that; that’s only for boys,” or “that’s only for girls,” we need to be brave enough to at least step in and have a dialogue. Ask “why do you think that?” and challenge those learned, rigid mindsets. Isn’t that what we do all the time with everything else, anyway?


These are indeed tough times. For our youngest, we knew middle school would suck, simply because it sucks for most everyone. It sucked for our older two, and they’re both cisgender and heterosexual (cishet, for short). I cannot imagine being trans on top of being a middle schooler. Personally, seventh grade was my worst year ever, and I didn’t have half the issues today’s kids have. Yet somehow, CC is (at least I think) at their core, very strong. CC can go from talking about her horrific day and being thoroughly sad, to quickly turning the conversation around and having us both doubled over in laughter in a matter of minutes.

Other times, CC will “escape” to their phone or the ipad for hours upon hours after school. Sometimes I leave them alone and let them do it, because I know they need to escape and decompress (and I like hearing their laughter as they watch funny cat videos. I know, at least for that moment, CC is okay.) I just hope and pray (and deep down believe) that CC will grow to be so much stronger from all this harassment and bullying.

On the issue of harassment and bullying, maybe I’m being hypersensitive, but public schools seem really intent on downplaying bullying in general lately. They really scrutinize parents’ written documents or emails about this (I know because I’ve seen and heard it, sometimes on a daily basis). And certainly, while it’s true that some parents do claim “bullying” when it’s not really happening (sometimes, it’s actually their own kid doing the bullying), we still need to take this issue as a whole far more seriously.

Most teachers, counselors, and administrators do a lot of work to ensure students know the difference between rudeness, meanness, harassment & bullying. (i.e., if someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s rude. If they say or do something intentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s mean. If they say or do something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it, even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset, that’s bullying.”) Which is a good distinction to know. Just as it’s good to know the difference between “tattling” and “telling.” (Tattling is about getting someone in trouble; telling is about getting someone out of trouble.)

That said, can we just call a spade a spade? We don’t need these technical definitions to establish that the exact same group of boys has been harassing, intimidating, teasing, excluding, isolating, being obnoxious to, showing intolerance, belittling, making fun of, calling names, pointing at, laughing at, and attempting to physically assault CC for a solid year and a half.

We don’t need to vet these kids at every incident and try to determine whether it was “intentional” or “unintentional.” Many of them are just acting like jerks because they can, period. At least in our case, they’re very intentional about everything they do to CC. I appreciate the need to hear and understand all sides, but after what my older daughter went through, we sort of gave up hope for any real equity, justice, or systemic change. It didn’t help that all this was unfolding in real time as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were ocurring.

In my kids’ cases, and in those of many other students who are perceived by their peers as “less than,” for any reason — but especially for the younger marginalized youth in our society, we typically see an established pattern. Ki0ds are often savvy enough to know, “I can’t pick on this person for being transgender (or gay, or queer, etc.), so I’m going to pick on them for being ‘weird.’” We have to take the opportunities to call out this kind of harassment and bullying. As it is now, our definitions are too loosey-goosey, and too open to ambiguous interpretation.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Schools, we’ve got to do better. I’m pleading with you, as both your colleague, your employee, and as a parent who’s been on the other side far too often, and for various reasons. Society needs to do better for our minority and marginalized groups. But we have to do better as school, too. And doing better actually starts with enlightening minds, helping people out of the pitfalls of ignorance and toxicity. In an ideal world, it starts from the top and trickles down. But as we’ve all seen, more recently, a certain stigma has been ascribed to empathy.

People across America are tired from seeing the folks at the top continue to do absolutely nothing to stop the rancid decay of our beloved democracy. So the onus to fix this falls back on us, the people in the middle; the people who are directly affected. And we start to heal and fix this toxic culture we’ve evolved into which prides itself on “winning” at the expense of anyone, by first educating others — luckily, that’s the thing we do best.

Martie Sirois

Written by

Martie Sirois (“sir-ROY”) — writer of social & political commentary, featured: HuffPost, Scary Mommy, NPR affiliates, etc. Advocate for trans youth & Mom of 3.

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