Qutoes from an Educational Leader ?

“Many of the purported events, which you have advised, are surprising,” he wrote. “I find it difficult to believe that our middle school students threw sandwiches and water bottles at Seth, that he was allowed to be continually threatened in the locker room, or that any student was able to call him a derogatory name in a public setting on school grounds without a consequence.”
– Tehachapi Unified School District Superintendent Richard Swanson

This statement comes from Superintendent Swanson’s written response to the ACLU’s demands that the school district must address a widespread climate of anti-gay bias documented in the experiences of Seth Walsh prior to his suicide this past fall.

After suggesting that he doubts the possibility of Seth’s persecution at school, Superintendent Swanson goes on to explain that if the ACLU will just investigate his student body and tell him who is harassing peers based upon gender orientation he will punish that student immediately.

“Additionally, if you will advise who you suspect the offenders are, we will investigate to determine whether your suspicions are correct. If they are, I will see that, following the start of school after winter holiday, they promptly receive appropriate consequences, training and counseling.”
– Tehachapi Unified School District Superintendent Richard Swanson

It would appear from the first statement that Mr. Swanson is not adequately aware of events occurring in his own school buildings.  And the events described in the Walsh case are highly typical, widespread, and well documented forms of middle school harassment rather than “difficult to believe” behaviors.  So much for informed leadership.

Then Mr. Swanson goes on to state that he does not see it as the ongoing duty of the school district to supervise school behavior and maintain a safe climate for students like Seth. Rather he suggests the watchdog organization should pinpoint where the problems are in his school buildings.  This second statement also suggests Mr. Swanson sees this problem as highly specific, where the removal of one or two students would somehow transform the school climate from homophobic to inclusive.

After stating that neither he nor his own staff are able to see or respond to widespread anti-gay bullying even following Seth’s death it is not surprising that Mr. Swanson would like the ACLU to offer him a scapegoat since he has already explained that he is in way over his head.


ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill responded to Mr. Swanson’s doubt and dismissal or responsibility with the following reminder:

“…our letter describes a widespread climate of anti-gay bias in the district that cannot be addressed simply by disciplining individual students.” Gill wrote. “Instead… as our letter explains, such a climate demands comprehensive action on the part of the district that is designed to address the underlying causes of anti-gay bias. We will communicate with you directly about students in the district who continue to suffer harassment based on their sexual and/or gender identity, but the need for the district to take steps outlined in our letter remains the same.”

Do you think he’ll get it the second time around?

Lets hope so.

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  1. Pingback: “I was small and my mom was African” | Schooling Inequality