When lack of cultural diversity turns into bullying
“For the past two years my son, Lucas González has been bullied. Adults have failed to protect him, and now the School District has failed him,” wrote Gilberto Gonzalez in an email sent to Superintendent William Hite.
According to Gonzalez, his 10-year-old son was robbed, hit on a regular basis and slapped in the face while attending Waring School in the Fairmount area of the city.
“What makes these incidents even more devastating is that when my son asked for help, the adults in charge of his safety failed to protect him. In some cases he was even told to deal with the issue himself,” Gonzalez said.
At the beginning, when the incidents first started occurring, Lucas went to his parents. “(But) in the end he was afraid to tell us, and was acting a little bit different,” Gonzalez said. “He is a very outspoken kid and it was getting to the point where he was afraid to talk anymore.”
The concerns were brought to Lucas’ teachers, Principal Brianna Dunn and finally to Karen Lynch, chief of Student Support Services at the Philadelphia School District. According to Gonzalez, they offered action plans that failed to provide an actual solution, for example, disciplinary warnings against the students who were accused of bullying.
Gonzalez said he called the School District’s office of bullying several times about his son’s situation, and never heard back from them.
Lynch, in an email responding to Gonzalez’s concerns, said that “consistent with School District policy and procedures, an investigation was conducted at Waring School to determine if Lucas' experience is bullying or harassment.”
Despite Lucas’ being hit and robbed, Gonzalez said Lynch stated that the investigation had determined that what Lucas had experienced was not bullying or harassment.
“Based on the experience you've described, however, we must believe Lucas is experiencing anxiety,” Lynch said.
“They interrogated him numerous times, and that is another reason he felt intimidated ... because people kept asking him stuff and they never spoke us, they never even told us they were talking to him,” Gonzalez said.
Lucas’ parents met with the principal of the school several times, but “in the end we realized they couldn’t protect our son and decided to get him out of school.”
But even that solution was blocked by the School District. “After two months of investigation, the principal at Waring School said we couldn’t take him out of school,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t give us an option.”
In the end Luca’s was able to transfer to Moffet School last March, but only because Gonzalez moved to a new residence in the area of Hancock Street, in order to remove his son from the bullying situation.
“It was a forced transfer. I told them I just moved and I wanted my son near my house,” Gonzalez said.
He said so far the experience at the new school has been much better for Lucas because it the student body much more diverse. In his former school, Lucas was one of maybe two Latinos in a class of African-American students.
The experience has prompted Gonzalez to think that the School District needs to develop cultural sensitivity programs, addressing the challenges and needs of children of different cultures and ethnic groups. “When you are the only person who is different, you’re going to get picked on. The staff was not culturally competent to handle what happens when you have a child who is different from everybody else in the class,” he said.
He says the School District needs to address a system that is not working to protect children.
“I still walk by Waring School everyday and a lot of the parents came up to me and ask me ‘How did you do it?’ because (the School District) doesn’t let you take the kids out of the school,” he said. “They asked me if they could use my address but I told them they should get together, argue with the principal and get something done.”
“But they are afraid that will only affect their kids even more,” Gonzalez said. “Especially the Latino parents.”