Concerns were raised by a resident last week at the Chagrin Falls Board of Education meeting about bullying within the schools.
Emily Gottsegen, 64, the parent of two Chagrin graduates, told the board that her children were victims of bullying when they first started classes in the district.
“As students new to the district, [my children] both had negative experiences which I would characterize as threatening and intimidating and certainly not welcoming and inclusive,” the South Russell resident said.
New families with children moving to the district prompted her to speak at the Oct. 6 meeting, she said. “I’m a taxpayer and I think about all the kids,” Mrs. Gottsegen said.
She told the board about an incident involving her son riding the school bus one day when another student pointed at him and said he was gay.
“It was an accusation meant to shame, embarrass and send a message that [my son] or gayness is bad or something to call out as wrong,” she told the board. Mrs. Gottsegen said that the comment was not only hurtful to her son, but also possibly hurtful to other students riding the bus who may one day identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“It stands to reason that by the time the bus got to school, at least two kids were in worse shape than when they left home and not very ready to learn,” she said.
Her daughter and a group of friends were also bullied by some senior girls who called them degrading names, she said. The comments were stated just out of earshot of teachers and administrators, Mrs. Gottsegen said.
“My guess is the way that my kids were treated as new students probably hasn’t changed a lot,” Mrs. Gottsegen concluded.
“So the question is how should our schools safeguard against demeaning experiences like these and instead promote positive relationships between classmates and between students and teachers,” Mrs. Gottsegen asked the board.
“We have a lot of new families that have moved into the neighborhood and lots of children and I wouldn’t want any other child to have a hard time being new to the district that my kids did,” she explained.
School districts should recognize the importance of embracing diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities, she said. “There are [curriculi], there are organizations locally and nationally that can guide them to ensure students feel supported and not judged,” she said.
Mrs. Gottsegen called on the recently-formed DEIJ program in the schools to address these issues.
School officials said the district looks at available programs.
“We take everything we get in public participation and put it in our system,” Chagrin Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski said. The DEIJ task force was put together last year, she said. “We’re still working on designing what that will look like this year.”