Northwest NEWS

February 7, 2000

School

Northshore teens take issue with harassment

by Aerin Orbits

   Teens from all over the Northshore School District took the Ricketts board room by storm on Jan. 31 to combat a formidable enemy--harassment. They streamed through the doors of the Teen Northshore Town Meeting entitled "Through Teens' Eyes: Harassment," eager to express their opinions and speak to the community about the dangers of tolerating any form of harassment.

   More than 70 teens claimed to have been a victim of harassment and told stories of the effect it has had on them. One fifteen-year-old boy said that he tried to commit suicide in junior high school, due to the daily taunting and physical harassment he endured for more than three years.

   Using the anonymous electronic survey equipment from the Northshore School District, 67 percent of teens reported that adults in the community or in their school harassed them. Stereotyping was the most prevalent form of harassment cited by more than 40 percent of the teens present; 21 percent claimed that they had been harassed because of their gender; and 19 percent were harassed because of their sexual orientation.

   Woodinville High School Principal Vicki Puckett, one of seven panel members, had personal experience with harassment growing up which fueled her adamant stance regarding harassment. "I have zero tolerance for any incidences of harassment in Woodinville, but I can only deal with the events I know about," she said.

   The lack of communication within the school is a serious problem that most teens agreed with. More than 76 percent of students said that they only tell their friends when they've been harassed. Only 13 percent of students would tell a counselor, and six percent would tell a teacher.

   Assistant Principals were the least approachable to teens that had suffered harassment. Not one student polled said that they would go to an Assistant Principal if they had been harassed. Puckett responded, "Maybe we need to help staff identify harassment when the students won't give them the verbal message that they're being harassed."

   Often the fear of retaliation keeps victims of harassment quiet, or worse yet, most teens said that teachers and administrators didn't do anything to punish harassers, so students don't bother telling staff members of harassment incidents. A junior high student explained her point of view: "Oftentimes, when teachers should be setting a class standard against harassment, they instead let the harassment slide because they want the majority of the students to like and respect them, so they don't discipline the class. The teacher needs to stick up for the minority of students being harassed, not condoning the behavior of the harassers. The teacher is just telling the students that harassment is okay when they don't do anything."

   The event placed the spotlight on teens' views as to how the school and community can stop harassment. This town meeting opened the door for future discussions about managing harassment problems.

   Poster reminders on school walls to advocate awareness that "friends don't let friends harass others" was one of many solutions suggested. Many teens expressed interest in holding town meetings at their school to raise awareness of harassment. More than 50 percent of the teens at the meeting believed that solving harassment problems requires each student and staff member to take personal responsibility not only for promoting a supportive environment but also to take a stand against those who choose to harass others.