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Study: Schools not up to speed on harassment

BY ASHLEY OERMAN | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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Iowa schools still aren’t up to par when it comes to the prevention of harassment and bullying, according to a study released today.

Findings from the 2009 Climate Survey suggest a serious need for schools to create safer environments for homosexual and transgender students. However, the study found improvement in the number of teachers who intervene in bullying.

“We were hoping for a larger change; unfortunately, it hasn’t changed that much,” said Ryan Roemerman, the executive director of the Iowa Pride Network, which conducted the survey.

The Iowa Pride Network works against homophobia and transphobia in K-12 and colleges. The 2009 survey is the first to measure ethnic, sexual, and homophobic prejudice since the Iowa Safe Schools Law went into effect in 2007.

The law requires Iowa schools to implement anti-bullying measures. The law is specifically aimed at protecting minorities from adverse school conditions.

This year’s survey was also the first to measure how many students knew about the law meant to be enforced beginning two years ago, Roemerman said.

“We were surprised to find most students didn’t know about the law,” Roemerman said. “Most said [their school] hadn’t adopted it or posted it.”

To combat the lack of knowledge, the network will publish a manual for students to educate them about the law. The manual is set to be posted on the group’s website along with the results of the survey.

Roemerman said he hopes the results serve as a guidepost to give lawmakers, schools, and communities a some direction to improve.

Eric Peterson, a guidance counselor at City High, 1900 Morningside Drive, said he feels the school is among those taking progressive steps.

“In our building, there is acceptance of all types of students,” he said. “We’re not perfect, but our administration is extremely proactive.”

One step was creating a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender group called Gays, Lesbians, or Whatever. Students organized the group, and it has been a positive experience for the school, Peterson said.

West High student Sofia Meredith, a member of a similar group called “Colors,” said she has also seen a change in attitudes toward those with different sexual backgrounds.

“This year has been a turning point; people are realizing the consequences,” she said.

In addition to organizing homosexual and transgender organizations, City High has recently implemented a program called “Citizenship, Integrity, Teamwork, and You.” Peterson said the program encourages students and faculty to discuss issues including personal integrity and tolerance.

Peterson, whose daughter is openly gay, said he believes Iowa City’s diversity may be a reason area high schools, such as City High, are more welcoming of differing sexual orientations.

“In Iowa City, there is more exposure, so our students come to City High more accepting and understanding,” Peterson said.

But not all Iowa high schools are so progressive. Greg Vander Lugt, the principal of Cascade High School in Cascade, Iowa, said the school’s small population, around 80 per grade, inhibits its ability to organize groups similar to City High’s.

“Larger schools have a leg up on us because they have more diversity,” he said.

Vander Lugt also noted that, despite its lack of diversity, Cascade adopted the policies suggested by the Department of Education after the Iowa Safe Schools Law passed.

Roemerman said although population was not considered in the survey, he noted he hopes school officials try to go beyond the minimum requirements of the law regardless of the school’s size.


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