Albuquerque, NM – December 4, 2015 –The New Mexico Public Education Commission (PEC) recently unanimously passed a resolution in support of the New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative, an ongoing collaboration between Equality New Mexico (EQNM), Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM), the New Mexico Gay Straight Alliance Network (NMGSAN), Prevention at Play, Southwest Women’s Law Center (SWLC), and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Albuquerque. The resolution also supports the Safe Schools for All Students Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces) in 2015 legislative session.
“This resolution is a step in the right direction for providing New Mexico students with safe and supportive learning environments,” said Amber Royster, EQNM Executive Director. “In light of today’s heartbreaking news of a devastating incident at a Clovis, New Mexico middle school, in which family members of a student say repeated bullying was a primary reason for that student attempting suicide, this is especially important to address now. While we recognize that suicide is always a complex matter, too many young people are repeatedly bullied to the point of despair, and we know this sense of hopelessness and alienation are major factors. Our hearts go out to this Clovis student and to his family—and we will continue to push the Governor, legislators, and public school officials to take strong action in addressing the dismal state of bullying prevention in New Mexico public schools so this story is not one that is repeated.”
While New Mexico has had an anti-bullying statute on the books for almost a decade, both implementation and oversight are lacking. According to the most recent (2013) New Mexico Youth Risk & Resiliency Survey, at least 50,000 incidents of bullying and harassment that occur in New Mexico schools go unreported each year, and a staggering 10,400 students miss school each month because they feel unsafe. In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students are targeted at significantly higher rates than straight students because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. According to the most recent (2013) GLSEN National School Climate Survey, at least 85 percent of LGBTQ students have experienced some form of bullying and/or harassment.
“Many of our school districts and public charter schools—at least 12.6 percent—do not even have bullying policies in place, despite state law requiring these policies,” added Royster. “Furthermore, 80 percent of policies that are in place are inconsistent with current state and federal statutes. This effort to ensure that bullying is addressed in proactive and restorative ways is imperative for improving the education system in New Mexico”
“Bullying and harassment have become more frequent and lethal in recent years, and are often being cited as one of the multiple contributing factors to youth suicide and suicide attempts,” said Jenn Jevertson of Prevention at Play. “This is a widespread problem affecting all students—those who identify as LGBTQ and those who do not. The New Mexico Youth Risk & Resiliency Survey shows that eight percent of non-LGB students in New Mexico have attempted suicide, while a staggering 32 percent of LGB students have attempted suicide. Additionally, the National Mental Health Association reports that for every LGBT student who reports being harassed, four non-LGBT students reports being harassed for simply being perceived to be LGBT.”
“This isn’t just ‘normal kid stuff’, as we’ve heard so many legislators and other adult decision makers say,” said Israel Chávez of EQNM. “This is a product of widespread homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bias demonstrated by adults in and out of the education system, and students are bringing it to classrooms and school playgrounds with them. It’s past time for our Governor and Legislature to take this problem very seriously.”
In addition to not having comprehensive policies that comply with state and federal statutes across school districts in New Mexico, the current state statute on bullying does not protect against bullying on the basis of gender identity or expression.
“This missing piece of the statute leaves one of the most vulnerable student populations unprotected,” added Jevertson. “It’s long overdue for New Mexico to implement the protections that LGBTQ students need and deserve, which, in effect, will also increase protections against bullying and harassment for all students.”
The resolution states that the PEC supports the passage and implementation of the Safe Schools for All Students Act and the efforts of the New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative, as they have “been shown to improve the educational environment for students.”
To read the full story on the Gattis Middle School bullying incident in Clovis, visit http://www.everythinglubbock.com/news/kamc-news/father-claims-school-bullying-lead-to-sons-attempted-suicide. The Safe Schools for All Students Act would create across-the-board policies that are in line with both state and federal statutes, and provide proven best practices for addressing bullying and harassment in schools.
About New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative: The New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative is a multi-year collaborative education, outreach, and advocacy effort to address and mitigate bullying, harassment, and violence in the schools, as well as to increase public understanding of Safe Schools issues, such as school push-out, to create a supportive environment for systemic change. Local collaborating partners include Equality New Mexico Foundation, Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, New Mexico Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Prevention at Play, Southwest Women’s Law Center, and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network of Albuquerque. (See more at http://www.eqnmfoundation.org/safe-schools-initiative)