Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition’s summit focuses on anti-gay bullying

According to an Associated Press report in Education Week, a screening of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest documentary focusing on anti-gay bullying will kick off a weekend summit sponsored by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition.  Lecia Brooks, the law center’s director of outreach, said Mississippi is a good place to show the film because the state has been in the spotlight over the past year for gay-related issues at schools.

Earlier this year, Constance McMillen, a lesbian teenager from Fulton, sued the Itawamba County School District over its ban of same-sex prom dates, which didn’t allow her to bring her girlfriend to the dance. Instead of allowing the girls to attend, the district canceled the prom. A settlement was reached in the case. In another case, Ceara Sturgis, who had been a student at the Wesson Attendance Center, filed a lawsuit in August accusing the Copiah County School District of violating her rights by not allowing a picture of her in a tuxedo to be included in the school yearbook. Sturgis’ lawsuit is still pending in U.S. District Court.

The film, “Bullied:  A Student, a School and a Case that Made History,”  is about Jamie Nabozny, a teen who was harassed physically and verbally by classmates at a school in Ashland, Wis., Brooks said. Nabozny filed a lawsuit, which the law center said led to a federal court decision that held school officials could be held accountable for not stopping the harassment of gay students. “We’re trying to get to all those communities and take preventative actions,” Brooks said. “It’s sad it coincided with the suicides, but now teachers and school districts are really kind of interested in getting ahead of it and discussing these issues.”  Brooks said the state Department of Education and the office of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had received a copy of the documentary.

Hood’s office recently helped sponsor a conference. It focused on bullying in general, not bullying of gay students. Hood said technology has fueled bullying. “The use of the Internet and text messaging in cyber bullying has caused an exponential increase in the number of children being abused through cyber space and being bullied on school grounds,” Hood said.

Source: Education Week, 11/5/10, By Associated Press

[Editor's Note: Bullying is a persistent, but often unnoticed problem in schools. In October, the Associated Press reported in Education Week on a study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics (JIE) of 43,000 high school students which found that 43% of respondents reported being bullied in the past year and 50% reported bullying someone else. A summary of the article, which includes links to additional background on bullying in schools, including the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights' latest guidance on bullying, is available at the first link below.

For background on the Mississippi student cases referenced above, see the second and third links below.]

NSBA Legal Clips on JIE study

NSBA Legal Clips archive on Constance McMillen suit over same sex prom date

NSBA Legal Clips archive on Ceara Sturgis suit over year book photo

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