Bullying center stage at W. Contra Costa Co. meeting


It comes after a fight last month on the campus of Hercules High School that involved a transgender student. The fight, caught on a cellphone video, was a hair-pulling battle between a transgender student and three girls. For district officials, it was a clear sign that their anti-bullying campaign needed beefing up.

"And we felt like we better step in now, as a board and give direction - as a policy-makers to our superintendents, to staff so that they know we're serious about that. We can't have a bunch of lawyers coming in suing us every day, all day, around our failure to make our schools safe," said Charles Ramsey of the West Contra Costa County School Board.

The West Contra Costa School District has been under the scrutiny of the Federal Office for Civil Rights since a brutal gang rape at Richmond High School four years ago.

Since then, security cameras have been installed at schools across the district. At Ford Elementary School, 57 cameras provide both live and recorded images to administrators and police.

"[Bullying] is really about educating. It's about having kids talk and learn about how to become more empathetic to recognize and realize the differences and uniqueness that each individual brings, said Adam Taylor of the West Contra Costa County School District.

Fifth grade teacher Teresa Barrera says it's a message she reinforces every day in her classroom.

"I think that this is really when students are starting to mold and develop their moral compass. And I think it's really important for students to get into that habit of mind, of reflection. Again, of 'What was my behavior?' and 'What is the consequence for other people?'" she said.

The county's schools have seen a sizeable drop in the number of serious bullying incidents over the last three years, but administrators still think more can be done.

After the meeting, the school board said would adopt a whole new set of policies for bullying and sexual harassment and they're going to hire someone to administer it. At the meeting they heard from parents, community members and surprise speaker -- the transgender student who explained why she fought back.

"It was just build up, after build up, after build up... and no one was really there to help me," said 16-year-old Jewelyes Gutierrez, a transgender student.

Gutierrez says the girl she was assigned to sit next to in class, spit gum on her, called her names and physically threatened her because she is transgender.

"And then she comes back into the room and says, 'I feel like punching you in your face. I feel like punching you in the face,'" said Gutierrez.

After repeated harassment, Gutierrez says she finally snapped. The fight caught on video at Hercules High School got Gutierrez and the three girls she fought suspended for several days. Gutierrez says she complained, but administrators didn't realize the extent of the problem.

"I went home one day and I just sat in my room just thinking and came to a point where I wanted to physically hurt myself," said Gutierrez.

The West Contra Costa County School District called the emergency board meeting after parents complained the district hasn't done enough to stop the bullying.

"I'm saddened that some of the suggestions that you made fell on deaf ears. I as a board member take responsibility for that," said Ramsey at the meeting.

Ramsey says he was alarmed to find out sexual harassment training guidelines adopted in 2008 were never fully implemented district-wide.

"It's a big problem when we don't have a way to point parents and people to what the superintendent is supposed to do administratively if sexual harassment occurs," said Ramsey after the meeting. He says the district's slow action makes it vulnerable to lawsuits and it's critical the board adopt a new administrative policy on sexual harassment within 30 to 45 days.

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