2: The School

This is the second in a series about my son’s recent experience with bullying at school.

Sam’s teachers these last four years have been amazing; they have addressed bullying whenever they see or hear about it, and worked hard to build a culture of kindness in their classrooms. The administration has taken action to discipline children who have been cruel. And yet punishing bullying after the fact is not the same as preventing it from happening in the first place.

For four years, we have asked the school administration to do the work necessary to prevent Sam from being harassed—to implement a school-wide bullying prevention program specifically around gender identity. We have connected them with anti-bullying trainers, directed them to age-appropriate curriculum, shared studies showing the effects of acceptance on health and mental health outcomes for LGBT kids.

For four years the administration has felt our pain, sympathized, told us how Sam adds valuable diversity to their school community, said how grateful they are that we’ve brought our concerns to their attention.

And for four years, they’ve done nothing about it.

When I learned of the recent escalation of bullying against Sam, I thought, with dismay and resignation: “It’s time for yet another talk with the school.”  Then I thought, with dismay and resignation: “We’ve had these talks before, so many times, and here we are, with things getting worse.”

At what point do we call it quits? Find another school? Is there a school where kids who are as different as Sam is don’t get bullied?




  1. says

    You know, I am really struggling with this exact same thing. I (my children, actually) don’t actually have a problem at our school, but I do see some bullying, I know it is answered with platitudes instead of prevention and sadly, at times, not even corrective action.

    Because I was so horribly bullied for years and years starting in grade school, I am in knots putting my children into school. I deal with those knots, because they are mine and I can’t afford to have them bleed into my children’s experiences. But when I talk to the teachers and, especially the principal, I am met with a deadness. I fear the day when a teacher is inappropriate (and I know there is one in our future) and I must advocate for a child.

    I yearn for preventative open actions by our educators, but I don’t know how to foster it, and I am afraid it is not considered to be a parent’s place. I resent that immensely.

    And. So. Where do we go with this? How do we demand to be an equal partner with the schools in setting a healthy agenda?

    At this point, I have begun to consider home schooling, but I hate to opt out. My kids are the ones who would value your kid, and like him for who he is. I would value the social aspects of school but … the values just seem so skewed toward making the staff’s life easy and avoiding controversy.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that, I know what you are saying, I know that it starts with me teaching my children acceptable behaviour and morals, but I don’t think that even the “better” schools are truly stepping up to the plate in anything but platitudes.

    I look forward to the rest of your series.


  2. Farah Mendlesohn says

    I have no advice on your specific question, but just a fun book you might like (if you haven’t read it already): David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy is a school romance set in the school of our dreams, where the quarterback is a pink boy who paints his nails.

  3. Jen says

    To answer your rhetorical question – no, there isn’t a school where kids don’t get bullied, as sad and frustrating and infuriating as that seems. We live in the South where our son attends a public elementary school, and he rides the school bus with everyone else, as well. I’ve found that dealing with the issue incrementally works better for us, as the administration finds it less intimidating. I met with the guidance counselor and asked her to include gender differences along with the anti-bullying campaign they already had in the school. I e-mailed his art teacher and asked her to discuss to her classes how colors were not assigned to genders, after he was bullied for liking purple and pink. I met with the principal and asked her which teachers in the school would be the most open-minded to my son’s needs, and would allow him to play with girl toys. It seems as parents that we are going to have to be vigilant in our schools every step of the way, and STILL deal with the fallout. The more kids bully, the more vigilant we have to be in building our kids’ confidence, as well. I fear that school is just the beginning…there is a whole world out there that our kids are going to have to face on their own one day soon. Each small, incremental change we make at our schools is a bigger victory in the scheme of things.

  4. Sarah S says

    Sorry if I’m repeating my comment on your last post, but changing schools was the only thing that helped my son, after 4 years of bullying. It was also the only thing that really made a difference in his eyes, asking him about it 10 year after the fact. Sometimes an international school, or arts focused school is better. Good luck. As you know, his spirit is precious, but it gets beaten down after years of bullying :(

  5. Sarah Quinn says

    This is so hard. I’m really sorry that Sam has to deal with it.

    I went to a Quaker high school, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Now, who knows if the Quaker schools around you would be any better about trying to stop bulling before it starts, but in my experience Quakers are way ahead of the curve when it comes to issues of social justice, so it might be something to check into.

    You may have done this already, but another idea is to contact the anti-bullying trainers and ask what schools in the area they’ve already been working with. Perhaps that would point to a place where administrators are already leading the way?

    I’m holding Sam in the light.


  6. Michelle Killinger says

    Hi Sarah, I’m a “pink boy” who grew up in the world of strict Victorian prejudice and a world of isolation because of either familial indifference or diffident rejection. I can tell you firsthand that the bullying, although inflicted by his classmates and none-the-less painful for Sam, tends to originate in the adult, not the child. Few minds at his age and emotional/psychological development level are capable of creating the intense reaction to Sam’s likes and choices as his/(her) classmates seem to display, but each of them are perfect parrots of their parents reactions and objections. It seems preposterous that a third grader makes the connection of long flowing hair with the concept of growing boobs, but it is probably reality that his parents did and in their vocalization of their thoughts about Sam have given birth to the seeds of prejudice and intolerance their child will bear.

    Thankfully Sam has you in his support network. I am envious as I had no one and transited that world of bigotry and prejudice alone. But, despite the scars and the hate and aloneness, I survived and am remarkably well for my journey. I would suggest to you that while the participation by the education system is necessary in changing these undeserved scourgings, addressing this problem at the adult level in vitally necessary if any real change is to successfully follow. Changing schools is only temporary, as is changing locations, jobs, dreams etc. The bigotry and intolerance follows because it exists in all corners of our society and until the light of education and tolerance is allowed to illuminate those places, the bigotry and bullying will continue. There is nothing wrong with Sam’s afflictors – they are just as pure and innocent and deserving of love and acceptance as he , the problem lies with their parents and their attitudes. Address them, bring them to the awareness that they do nothing but perpetuate the cycle of hate and intolerance by their own hatred and intolerance and you will succeed in changing the bullying mentality of their children as well as their willingness to accept all of the “Sams” of this world.

    I wish you strength and courage and love and the knowledge that what you are doing is not only right, but exceedingly necessary. Is their another place, another school, another planet where this bullying does not exist? Maybe one does, at the other end of the rainbow, but for now I believe that all you can do is fight the injustice and stand tall with Sam for his right to be who he is and his right of expression. Sam is not like all the others at his school because he has YOU for his mother and that will make all the difference.

    Love and strength,


  7. says

    a reader wrote in:

    Sarah: Have you called the parents of the bullies? I don’t know if that would help, but those children’s parents should know how horrible they are treating Sam and the effect it has on him. This should not be allowed to happen, but it probably doesn’t occur in the classroom (or does it?) so teachers would not be aware of what is being said to him. Poor guy!

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