Darryl Denham’s anguish came through loud and clear in his piece in the Jan. 29 Forum section. Lamenting the suicide of his 13-year-old son, Sam, the Covington, Ky., father wrote:
I could have maybe accepted a car accident or illness, but not this. Not Sam, not my little sweet innocent baby boy. He was still afraid of going downstairs at night sometimes by himself.
Shortly after Sam’s death, we learned it was bullying that drove him to suicide — name-calling, incessant harassment at school. “Kids just being kids,” some would say.
Our son deserved better. He deserved to feel safe in his own school. Everyone should feel protected where they learn, work, play and live.
So where do we go from here? How do we prevent the loss of more young lives like Sam’s? Can we stop all bullying in our schools? No. Can we make a difference? Yes.
We need to live by some basic rules, morals and values that can be summed up in one word: respect.
Incredibly, the father’s anguish and the offering of a solution fell on deaf ears.
And if some of that respect can be achieved through a more refined anti-bullying law in Kentucky — one that may help protect students like Sam from the harassment they fear on a daily basis — then we must pass that law now.
This week, a bill that would have expanded Kentucky’s anti-bullying law to include race, sexual orientation and other factors that invite harassment, died in the House Education Committee after it failed to get the 15 votes it needed to move on. House Republicans, who champion themselves as “pro-life,” opposed strengthening the law, even after hearing the testimony of parents like Darryl Denham.
Shame on them for prizing agenda over humanity. After the measure failed, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said, “If this law were to pass, then we would be placing into our school statutes, for the first time in our history, gay rights language.”
We are assuming that Rep. Waide, who professes to want to protect all children, had no problem with the state of Kentucky’s historic codification of anti-gay discrimination in its constitution with the hateful marriage amendment of 2004.
As Paulette Logsdon, president of Kentucky Special Parent Involvement Network, wrote of opposition to the bill when it was introduced, “Even though this legislation seeks to ensure the safety of every student disproportionately targeted by bullies based upon some aspect of who they are — be it their perceived race, religion, nation of origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and more — opponents will not abide it because of their political aim to exclude all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons from the law.”
Well, mission accomplished for the opponents.
This from the Kentucky Post:
Shame on the lawmakers, bullies with votes, who refused to stand for Sam Denham. Shame on us for continuing to elect them.
Woodland Middle School after Sam Denham's suicide:
What's being done about bullying?
Remember the movie "Mean Girls" a few years ago? It was a comedy, but there's nothing funny in real life about being teased, harassed and bullied in school.
A lot of people say "kids will be kids," as if there's nothing you can do about it. But see what life is like for the victims at one Tri-State school, and see if you think enough is being done to protect kids.
Shouldn't school be a place where your child feels safe?
Woodland Middle School in Covington is the school where friends and his parents say, 13-year-old Sam Denham was bullied until he couldn't take it anymore.
Tamera Carmack is a Woodland parent. "I heard many kids were bullying Sam. A lot of boys. He was a target. Left alone in the lunchroom at a table by himself. Someone would pour milk on him," said Carmack.
Student Zoe Chin says, "People called him gay, faggot, smart aleck. They made fun of how he walked, and he walked like anybody. They called him nerd, dork, they pushed him, and knocked his books down."
Zoe had planned to go to the mall with Sam on Oct. 15, but on Friday the 14th, he shot and killed himself. "I got a phone call and didn't believe it. Looked on Facebook and it said 'Rest in Peace, Sam.'"
Zoe met Sam through what must have been a welcome act of kindness.
"How did you two get to be friends?" I asked.
"The beginning of the year. [I asked] you want to sit with us at lunch? We talked every day after that," she says.
Madi Toms was also a good friend of Sam's. Like Zoe, she wears a necklace with his picture. Madi says Sam was funny, smart, brave and liked to talk.
But Madi left Woodland last year for another school, because the bullies targeted her too.
"When you were being bullied, what was that like? How did it make you feel?" I asked.
"It made me want to cry. I told my mom, 'Come pick me up, I can't deal with this anymore.' "
Madi's mother moved so her daughter could get away from Woodland. Madi now goes to Twenhofel, where she feels safe.
But the question is, what's being done at Woodland in the wake of Sam's death, to protect other kids? I asked Kenton County Superintendent of Schools Terri Cox-Cruey.
"We've done a lot, but since this fall we made sure every one of our schools are following same procedures and protocols," said Cox-Cruey. "I've talked with parents who say their children are afraid to go to the lunchroom.
Is that acceptable?" I asked.
"I don't think it's acceptable, have not received any concerns like that," said Cox-Cruey.
When asked if the school had done as much as it should have to protect Sam, Cox-Cruey responded, "I do. I think they thought they were doing everything. They weren't alerted there was an issue with Sam. No warning."
"How was school?" I asked. "Fine." Carmack serves on the bullying committee formed after Sam's death.
"What is your perception that the school has done since Sam's death," I asked. "Nothing," she replied. The school held an anti-bullying presentation in January, and another in December, but both were held at night, when only a handful of parents and a few students attended.
"Do you think there is bullying at woodland middle school?" I asked.
"I think there are probably pieces of bullying everywhere," responded Cox-Cruey.
A month after Sam's death, the Kentucky Center for School Safety surveyed students, teachers and parents. The survey found that 75 percent of students say bullying is a problem at Woodland. "How can they not see it? Why are they not looking for it?" asks Carmack.
Meanwhile, Zoe approaches every school day with dread. "They call me fat, ugly make fun of how I talk... they make fun of my nose, my race... they make fun, my mom's white, dad's Chinese, they say that's weird," says Zoe.
"You're so pretty. Why do they pick on you?" I asked.
"I feel I'm an easy target. I don't have lots of self-esteem if not any."
And where are the teachers?
"The teachers at Woodland have favorites and those favorites don't get in trouble. It doesn't stop," said Zoe.This from Silas House in the Herald-Leader:
When you're 13 or 14, how do you make it stop? Madi transferred to another school. "I can't deal with the same kids another four years."
Zoe will go to a catholic school next year. And Sam found his own way out.
Going to school without fear is not a 'special right'
On Tuesday, Kentucky House Bill 336, legislation that would have protected students from being bullied, was defeated in a narrow, party-line vote in the House Education Committee.
Ten of our representatives voted against it after hearing emotional testimony from several parents whose children had committed suicide after relentless bullying. Three committee members didn't bother to vote at all.
Some of these legislators cited an anti-bullying law already on the books as their reason for opposing the bill. However, their logic falls short.
To pass the "Golden Rule Act" in 2008, lawmakers stripped that bill of any specific language so that the law protects "everyone." The problem is that "everyone" language rarely works. That's why a bill like the Civil Rights Act had to be enacted in 1964, to specifically call out discrimination against blacks as lots of folks chose to just not include them as "everyone."
HB 336 specified that students may not be discriminated against based on their "actual or perceived race; color; religion; national origin; ancestry or ethnicity; sexual orientation; physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability; gender; gender identity and expression; or other distinguishing personal characteristic."
That sure sounds like everyone to me, but in language so specific that no one gets left out.
But Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he voted against the bill because it would introduce "gay rights language" into school statues.
Another representative, C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, said, "we have sufficient laws."
A sufficient law would protect everyone, including those who are thought of as "the other" instead of as part of "everyone."
People who claim that any protection given to a gay student is providing "a special right" seem to not understand that without specificity, anyone seen as "the other" doesn't get the rights afforded to everyone else.
Voting against this bill (or abstaining) is simply more bullying, but done in halls of marble instead of lockers.
By opposing this bill — and claiming their hesitation is because they don't want gays to get "special rights" — these legislators are blatantly saying that gay students don't matter as much as their classmates, and should not be treated as equals.
I was bullied in middle and high school. Why did they bully me? Because I wore glasses. Because I was terrible at sports. Because I was the editor of the high school newspaper. Because I acted gay (whatever that means). Those are some of the reasons the aggressors gave.
But why did they really bully me? Because they were cowards, and I was smaller than them.
Bullies are always cowards.
Politicians who refuse to protect children are also cowards.
I survived by fighting back. But not all kids can do that. And I certainly didn't receive the worst bullying, although I witnessed plenty of it. And it's not much better today. Otherwise teenagers wouldn't be shooting themselves to escape the daily torture the way Miranda Campbell, 14, did after being repeatedly bullied because of her sexual orientation.
HB 336 would have required schools to have a comprehensive definition of bullying and would require all school district employees to have mandatory training in reacting properly to bullying. It would also acknowledge that people of a particular race, religion, orientation or disability are not often thought of as "everybody."
It is mind-boggling that so many members of the House Education Committee voted against a bill that would truly protect all students.
They should be ashamed.
Again, this bill was designed to protect everyone. But since the politicians focused only on the gay students, I'll do the same in my conclusion:
Before going to sleep tonight, these irresponsible lawmakers should think about every gay student who is lying awake dreading the school day tomorrow because their so-called representatives have told them the same thing the bullies say every day at school: that they're not good enough, and that they don't deserve any better.