Local News

Tuesday, Jan 29 2013 09:31 PM

Tehachapi board approves anti-bullying curriculum

BY COURTENAY EDELHART The Bakersfield Californian cedelhart@bakersfield.com

TEHACHAPI -- The Tehachapi Unified School District's board of trustees Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a sixth- through 12th-grade Curriculum for Safe and Inclusive Schools, but not until after tweaking it slightly to remove a role-playing exercise.

The anti-bullying training passed without much controversy compared with the fireworks when a similar curriculum designed for kindergarten through fifth grade passed last year.

The district is under a federal mandate to provide such training after the suicide of Seth Walsh. The 13-year-old middle school student hanged himself two years ago after he was bullied at school for being gay. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the district.

Some parents worried last year that the elementary school curriculum might cover adult themes that were not appropriate for very young children. Others expressed concern that the training promoted homosexuality in violation of their religious beliefs.

The district held numerous meetings with parents to go over the sixth- through 12th-grade curriculum, designed, as was the earlier one, by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. A committee of educators put off Tuesday's presentation -- originally scheduled for June -- in order to consider parent feedback and make revisions.

The curriculum was broadened to cover other marginalized groups, and speaks generally about tolerance, the consequences of bullying, ethics in cyberspace, legal ramifications of discrimination and respecting differences, among other topics.

About 20 people showed up at the meeting. One of them was parent Bonnie Mata, who asked for a written guarantee that classroom discussions would not tread into judgments about whether certain preferences were morally acceptable, which she felt was best reserved for discussion at home.

Parents would feel "a lot more comfortable if there was something in writing on how far the conversations can go, something that said they can only discuss it to this level, and then they would refer back to a parent or a counselor. Something you could hold up to protect your rights and your moral and religious beliefs within your family," she said.

District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said she wouldn't have a problem putting such a policy in writing, and said the district has already gone over with staff how to handle sensitive discussions.

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