I'ts reassuring to see, in the wake of 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn's suicide, that Chariton Community Schools appear to be taking Iowa's stiff anti-bullying policies seriously. Not so heartening, however, to see that our district may be virtually alone in doing so in the region --- if Iowa Department of Education mandatory reporting statistics regarding bullying reflect district practices.
Weishuhn, of Primghar and a freshman at northwest Iowa's South O'Brien High School, Paullina, took his own life Sunday, family members say, after in-school bullying because he was gay escalated via Facebook and cell phone calls and voicemails.
According to Kenneth's sister, Kayla, 16, he was targeted after he told people at school two weeks ago that he was gay, The Sioux City Journal reports. "As soon as he came out, kids started calling him names at school," Kayla said. "It was pretty bad."
The death remains under investigation. The young man's parents as well as school district officials acknowledge that they were aware of the situation, but according to his mother, Kenneth himself downplayed its seriousness, perhaps shamed by it as bullying victims often are.
Iowa's school anti-bullying statute dates from 2007, when it was instituted by a Legislature controlled by Democrats. It is unlikely such legislation would clear today's Republican-controlled House for reasons ranging from sheer politics to beliefs that bullying builds character and might, indeed, scare gay kids straight.
At the time, the legislation was considered a model. It clearly defined bullying, included sexual orientation and gender identity among protected categories and mandated monitoring and reporting procedures.
As mandatory reports began to flow into the Iowa Department of Education, however, it became increasingly clear that the great majority of school districts were either under-reporting or not collecting data at all. The implication could be that Iowa's school districts really aren't taking anti-bullying efforts seriously depsite being directed by the Legislature to do so.
Chariton seems to be a district that does take anti-bullying policies seriously, however. During the four years for which statistics are available, Chariton reported 321 cases. Our enrollment is listed at 1,474. Chariton is the only school district in the region reporting instances of bullying that even approach the general conservative estimate that an averge of 31 percent of students endure some degree of bullying in our nation's public schools.
Indianola, the largest school district in immediate vicinity with 3,452 students, reported only 12 cases of bullying during the same time period; Knoxville, with 1,947 students, 14 cases over the four-year period; Wayne Community (Corydon), 597 students and 15 cases; Centerville, 1,466 students and 97 cases; Clarke County (Osceola), 1,456 students and 71 cases; and Albia, 1,225 students and 42 cases.
The South O'Brien district, with 631 students, reported 102 reportable instances of bullying during the four-year period, an indication that it at least was working toward complience.
Four-year statistics for all of Iowa school districts may be viewed here, at the Iowa Safe Schools Web site.
I certainly don't envy school districts that do take seriously anti-bullying mandates, especially as they apply to LGBTQ youngsters, but admire those that try. It's a diffcult situation.
It's often said that kids are naturally mean, but I doubt that. As in many other areas, kids bring their baggage from home and educators and administrators are expected, when the baggage is explosive, to defuse it. That's unfair, but necessary.
In some ways, Iowa has turned toxic in the years after the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. Malignant characters like U.S. Rep. Steve King, who represents O'Brien County in Congress, don't help the situation. Nor did all those Republican political types running around saying insane things during our caucus season aided and abetted by morally bankrupt folks like Bob Vander Plaats and his followers.
Many allegedly Christian church continue to preach hate from their pulpits and spead it thorugh "Christian" education programs. Others churches are nominally supportive, denominationally at least, but scared that speaking out might anger the haters among them and dry up collection-plate revenue.
It's a difficult situation, with LGBTQ kids caught in the middle --- inclined to identify themselves earlier than old guys like me would even have dreamed of but so heart-breakingly vulnerable.