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New Jersey Students Stage Walkout in Support of Teacher

Four students at a New Jersey high school were suspended after 200 staged a walkout to protest the school's decision to withdraw an offer of tenure to a popular teacher who had objected to anti-gay slurs in her classroom. Cheryl Bachmann reportedly fought to have one of the students who had made a slur permanently removed after the student "was heard screaming in the high school’s hallways, using expletives and threatening to stab Bachmann."

West_milfordAccording to The Record, "Students planned the protest after learning Bachmann was told in late April she probably will not be offered tenure. This decision followed an initial indication in March that Bachmann would be asked to remain at the high school. During the month in between, Bachmann had asked two students to leave her class on two separate occasions after she said they both used a derogatory word for a homosexual. According to her, one of the students hit her in the head with a rolled-up gum wrapper on his way out and the female student later threatened to stab Bachmann."

Although the incidents appeared to have some connection with the school's withdrawal of their tenure offer, according to the paper, "administrators say they can't speak about individual teachers or students, but a memo obtained by The Record said there were 'serious concerns about her classroom management and ability to effectively control and tolerate unacceptable behavior.'" The students who were suspended on Tuesday, according to a school official "used profanity, were climbing on each other’s shoulders and out of control" during the walkout.

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  1. Support for a teacher gets you suspended BUT threatening to stab a teahcer and hurling a projectile towards a teachers head and......... What the heck happened to those 2 students? Oh yeah, they were used to punish the teacher.

    Posted by: pacificoceanboy | May 9, 2007 9:14:55 AM

  2. They aren't offering her tenure because "there were 'serious concerns about her classroom management and ability to effectively control and TOLERATE UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR'". [EMPHASIS mine]

    Are they friggin serious with this? There were serious concerns with her ability to effectively tolerate unacceptable behavior?

    Could one of our "blame the homo first" friends here please explain what that means and why we shouldn't be outraged by it?

    It seems that the message here is, if you want tenure you must ignore bullying and homophobia like the rest of the teachers. If you recognize it, address it, challenge it and punish it, you will be labeled a "trouble maker" and dealt with accordingly.

    Posted by: Zeke | May 9, 2007 9:43:29 AM

  3. "...tolerate unacceptable behavior." Morons.

    Posted by: jtg | May 9, 2007 9:45:20 AM

  4. 200 people walked out and only 4 were suspended. Maybe these students were causing a disturbance? I don't believe they deserved suspension for using profanity and climbing on shoulders. I think detention would have sufficed.

    In regards to the teacher not receiving tenure, my mother has worked for the school system for over 20 years and says that in this day and age parents are so "sue happy" that it's just easier to replace a teacher than getting an already financially strapped school system into a legal battle with parents.

    Posted by: Matt | May 9, 2007 9:51:37 AM

  5. I would just like to add that I think it sucks that a school system won't stick by it's teachers b/c they are afraid of getting sued.

    Posted by: Matt | May 9, 2007 9:53:53 AM

  6. A friend of mine from church called me in tears this morning because her son is being harassed and bullied relentlessly, on a daily basis, by kids calling him "gay", "fag" and Nazi (they are German). He is physically assaulted regularly and his school work is stolen, ripped up and thrown in the trash. He has been terrorized by these kids but when he reported it to his teacher he was told to toughen up and stop being a tattle tale. Once the bullying kids found out that the teacher said this they became even more abusive and the bullied child, feeling abandoned and helpless, suffered in silence, EVEN afraid to tell his parents what was happening to him.

    This kid has an IQ of 130 and is an absolute Einstein when it comes to science yet his parents were told last night that he is getting an F in Science. When they asked their som what happened he said that the boys were taking his work and destroying it and even though the teacher was fully aware of it he wouldn't do anything about it. When my friends met with the teacher last night they realized that he was a raging homophobe who suspected that their son was gay and because of this he was ignoring the abuse he was being subjected to.

    By the way, all of this is happening at a MAGNET school for the gifted. I can't imagine what happens in regular public schools.

    The kid, as far as we know, isn't even gay. Homophobia and homophobic bullying isn't just a problem for gay kids. It is a daily nightmare for thousands of children, gay and straight, and it is a problem that is largely ignored.

    This story about the teacher being punished for standing up against bullying just sends the message to bigoted teachers that the system is on their side and it sends a message to other teachers to keep quiet and don't get involved when they see bullying, particularly homophobic bullying, or they may lose their tenure, their job and or their livelihood.

    Something's gotta give!
    The saddest and sickest thing about this is that fundamentalist Christians are the number one supporters of maintaining this system of unchecked harassment and bullying.

    At some point some kid cracks and goes on a shooting spree and ALL OF THE SUDDEN there's outrage.

    It's time for us to get outraged NOW about what's happening to our kids in our schools and what's happening to teachers who are trying to protect and support them.

    Posted by: Zeke | May 9, 2007 10:07:16 AM

  7. I hear you loud and clear Zeke. I would also like to add that it's not only fundamentalist christians. In my area, it's also the black community and what I call "the redneck community". I find it funny that these two groups hate each other but find common ground on hating gays or anyone who shows a more femine side when some of them are on the down low as they call it. It's a shame.

    Posted by: Matt | May 9, 2007 10:24:44 AM

  8. Wow, Zeke. I feel awful for that kid. Where in the US is the family living?
    I think focusing on gay youth and the harassment they face should be our number one issue, definitely before the military issue and maybe gay marriage. These kids are going through hell and we need to help.

    Posted by: Adam | May 9, 2007 10:43:27 AM

  9. What ghetto town in NJ was this? Probably where I live - Hudson County. Blech.

    Zeke - not just the fundamentalist Christians. Talked to a black or Catholic teacher lately?

    Posted by: shane | May 9, 2007 10:50:46 AM

  10. What ghetto town in NJ was this? Probably where I live - Hudson County. Blech.

    Zeke - not just the fundamentalist Christians. Talked to a black or Catholic teacher lately?

    Posted by: shane | May 9, 2007 10:55:08 AM

  11. Intolerance in US schools. I am not surprised.

    Posted by: Landis | May 9, 2007 11:00:21 AM

  12. Well put as always, Zeke. This is just another variation on the recent story of the journalism teacher in Indiana who in order to keep her family's roof over their head and food on the table was forced to apologize to the local SS, excuse me, school board, for the crime of allowing one of her students to write a little trifle of an appeal for tolerance for LGBT students. Of course, she was forced to move to a different school, lose a week's pay, and not allowed to teach journalism for three years. I guess that's a "TUI" in Indiana—Teaching Under the Influence of REAL Christianity not the American Taliban version.

    Calling someone a "fag" apparently isn't "profanity" in this New Jersey school, and like the Good Nazis that they are, the administration cares more about "cuss words" and their concept of keeping order than flagrant bigotry and intimidation. Kinda like Germany in the early 30s in which no one would ever think of going against the status quo but harassing Jews was OK. When I visited Dachau years ago, one of the things I learned was that there were very exact written rules about how the inmates were to behave, including exactly where to place their individually issued food bowl and other items, and they could be punished for, e.g., being off by a few inches. [Dachau was not originally meant to be a death camp but a training camp for the system.] Still the inmates had been ripped from society without a single civil right left but even for them "order" had to be maintained. Sieg Heil!

    Zeke, I'm sure you are a great source of comfort to your friends, but I urge you to discourage them from believing that all they need do is be patient and kind and "the good" in the bigots at their son's school will spontaneously sprout. Even if that were to eventually happen, their son's torment would continue in the meantime.

    Please encourage them to immediately contact Equality Florida and/or Lambda Legal and/or the ACLU to identify any known local gay or gay-friendly attorney and threaten to sue the school for failure to provide an environment in which their son can learn and, generally, protect him. As you're probably aware, there is a great deal of legal precedent in this area, the most outstanding being the case of the student [Nabozny?] who won several hundred thousand dollars in settlement [even after he was no longer a student as I recall]. Sometimes just a letter from an attorney can part the waters. But Florida being Florida, and this situation occuring even at an exceptional school, they are likely to initially meet even further resistance to change. But, as Matt observed, the SERIOUS threat of legal action more often than not works. And it will only be believed if the parents determine to follow it through all the way. There might even be grounds to sue the parents of the students harassing their son.

    I realize that, for a time, there is the risk of making things worse for him, just as his own gentle complaint did, but, fortunately it is the end of the school year and the legal threat/action can be pursued over the summer. At the very least, with no confidence that things will be better in the fall, read SAFER, they should not send their son back to that school no matter how academically appealing it is. And, as you implied, his actual orientation is irrelevant and that point should be repeated again and again in any discussion about it so as not to add to his stress.

    Posted by: Leland | May 9, 2007 11:14:06 AM

  13. I think gay people in US are just tired of the fight. I met a couple (very nice people) from Boston, and they have no intentions to do anything about fighting prejudice. They said they are *tired* of the fight and just want to *left alone*.

    I cant argue with that, given the kind of legalized intolerance Americans have against any sort of diversity.

    Posted by: Landis | May 9, 2007 11:50:32 AM

  14. And what utopian realm do you come from, Landis?

    I think the victim of bullying in Zeke's case should simply call the police and have the kids charged with assault. Suing the school is a slow process that merely results in a financial payout.

    Posted by: anon | May 9, 2007 12:04:12 PM

  15. This school is in Florida. At this point I don’t want to divulge the name of the city or the name of the school because I don’t want people contacting them and exacerbating the situation before we’ve had an opportunity to address it through official channels. We are in the process of contacting Equality Florida and the ACLU for help and advice.

    We would welcome ANY suggestions or legal advice.

    Trust me, if we don’t get satisfaction, I will publish ALL the details and sick the Towleroad hounds on them!

    Matt and others are right; I shouldn’t have singled out fundamentalist Christians as if they are the only ones who have promoted bullying by fighting anti-bullying measures. Many faith groups as well as other groups have contributed.

    As a Christian, I take particular offense to people who use the Christian faith, MY faith, to justify hate or to justify ignoring harassment and violence, ESPECIALLY when it is directed at innocent children.

    Posted by: Zeke | May 9, 2007 12:22:19 PM

  16. Anon:
    Toronto - where we have recently passed an anti-bullying law for all schools which includes electronic bullying (emails, social network websites, phone etc).

    The problem is, I think, the lack of respect from enforcement agencies to enforce such rules. Tell the police? They might just laugh in your face.

    Posted by: Landis | May 9, 2007 12:38:18 PM

  17. Thanks for the advice Leland. We have had a call into Equality Florida (to which I AND this straight family belong) since early this morning (no call back as of yet). We didn't think about Lambda Legal. We'll check that out as well.

    Trust me, we aren't going to let this rest. The family is German and have been a bit timid in rocking the boat in rural America. They already have to deal with being called Nazis.

    I didn't know anything about the bullying until a few weeks ago. I had already started the process of informing Equality Florida. Evidently this has been going on for at least TWO YEARS. Not until last night did the parents realize the extent of the abuse. That's because their son was too scared and ashamed to tell them, especially after his teacher ridiculed him for speaking up about it.

    Unfortunately for them, papa Zeke has gotten wind it.

    Make no bones about it, I'll be this school's WORST nightmare!

    Anyone who thinks there is no fury like a woman scorned ain't never seen a PISSED OFF, homa-SEK-shul, Mississippi, redneck father's sh*t hit the fan!

    Posted by: Zeke | May 9, 2007 12:45:46 PM

  18. Zeke: You let us know what you need help on.

    Posted by: Landis | May 9, 2007 12:48:33 PM

  19. Lambda Legal has a "Help Desk" [description below].

    "How the Help Desk Works
    Lambda’s Legal Help Desk staff respond directly to members of our communit(ies) who are seeking legal information and assistance with discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and HIV status. To the extent that our resources and priorities allow, Lambda Legal takes on legal representation of callers whose situations present impact litigation issues; for many others, Lambda Legal provides leads to other organizations and practical information that might help them address their problems. We also provide a list of suggested questions to ask a prospective attorney. If you would like more information or to request assistance, please call the office which serves your state [see below for Florida-related contact info]. Please note that help desk hours are subject to change.

    The Help Desk frequently receives inquiries from people with similar questions, or who are facing similar issues, so you may wish to check our list of Commonly Requested Resources and Publications [none of these address school issues] before contacting the Help Desk to see if you can find the information you need.

    Mondays -- 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
    Wednesdays -- 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
    Thursdays -- 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
    Call 404-897-1880 and ask for the Help Desk.

    Posted by: Leland | May 9, 2007 12:49:05 PM

  20. Thanks Leland, I've made the contact. They are in meetings right now so I left a message with the voicemail.

    I am going to tell my friend about this website and about this discussion when she gets home later this afternoon. Any words of support and encouragement that you might have for her, her husband and their son would be appreciated.

    She is a tireless supporter of gay rights and equality. She, her husband and their family go with me and my family to EVERY gay rights and Pride event that we attend.

    It would warm my heart to see our Towleroad community stand up for them and show our support for them just as they have so unselfishly done for us so many times in the past.

    Posted by: Zeke | May 9, 2007 1:16:42 PM

  21. Trust me y'all. This is a step-by-step "textbook" example of what typically happens. I have read similar stories over and over and over, and, as suggested, they are just the ones we hear about; the proverbial tip of the iceberg of homohatred. From the school's complicity to the victim's fear of telling their parents ["What if they think I AM gay?" "I don't want to cause trouble." "It wouldn't do any good."]. Branded on my brain is the story of the kid in a small town in Canada a few years ago. His parents didn't find out that he'd been harassed for two years until his mother looked out their kitchen window and saw his body hanging from a large tree in their backyard. Driven to suicide to stop the pain HE WAS 15 YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!! And the story of Jim Wheeler whose mother I was privileged to meet. He was out five months out of school; his parents totally accepted his being gay but had no idea what he'd gone through at school until reading his diary/poems after he also hung himself. One of his experiences, being urinated on seems to be very popular among homohaters. [See documentary, "Jim In Bold."

    Slightly different was the story of Marcus Wyman, 18, in another small Pennsylvania town. Police happened upon him and another boy in a parked car, assumed they were gay simply because it was two boys together and they found condoms in the car [they weren't found to actually be "doing" anything], lectured them about the evils of homosexuality, and threatened to tell Wyman's grandfather with whom he lived that he was gay. Released, he went home, wrote a note of apology to his family and blew his brains out with the SECOND shot he fired because he flinched while firing the first one. Imagine what desperation must have driven that! In the movies, the would-be suicide often stops under such circumstances, but not always in real life when you're a teenage football playing boy terrified of being labeled the town queer. His mother sued for violation of her son's privacy which led to his suicide and was awarded $100,000. "No amount of money can replace what our client lost because of the actions of the police, but in paying this settlement the police department is acknowledging the role it played in Marcus Wayman's death," said her attorney. The ACLU has used the decision as legal precedent to help kids in other places, e.g., a 14-year old in Arkansas who was outed to his parents by his school, made to read the Bible in class, etc.

    Posted by: Leland | May 9, 2007 1:19:51 PM

  22. so which high school?

    Posted by: r | May 9, 2007 1:23:23 PM

  23. I was out in high school in NJ in the mid 90s and it was horrible and definitely fucked up my life/education. Death threats in your locker and verbal abuse on a daily base can do that to you.
    Leland's great post above provides some more examples of why this should be a major focus for us in the gay movement.
    Zeke, please let us know if you need more help. Also, I would suggest when you are ready to take action to post a diary on this on Daily Kos. There are a lot of folks there who could help with a group action writing and calling the school and maybe getting the story some media exposure.

    Posted by: Adam | May 9, 2007 2:25:24 PM

  24. Zeke,

    It sounds like you and your friends are doing all the right things to get the school system to protect this poor kid who is being harrassed.

    I might also add, however, that if I were the parent, I would demand that my child be transferred out of the classroom of the homophobic teacher. There is no reason this kid should have to sit in a classroom with a teacher who hates him.

    Best of luck, buddy.


    Posted by: peterparker | May 9, 2007 2:41:14 PM

  25. Zeke, this is advice from a layman who has done a quite a bit of research on the subject over the years. This applies even if they aren't really planning to sue, but will be immensely helpful if they eventually do end up doing so. At the very least it will show the school you have 1) consulted with someone for legal advice or 2) are planning to sue, and that unto itself may whip them into doing the right thing. Contrary to what many claim, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can violate the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of Equal Protection of the laws. It is harder to prove, but any such discrimination must 1) be rational and 2) related to a legitimate government interest. Both of the Circuit courts (mid level federal courts) that had addressed this specifically in the context of sexual orientation discrimination in addressing bullying and harassment at schools have come to the same conclusion, there is NO rational reason reason for allowing student-on-student bullying and harassment on the basis of the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation. Both courts (the 7th and 9th Circuits) states "We are unable to garner any rational basis for permitting one
    student to assault another based on the victim's sexual orientation." The two cases are Nabozny v Podlesny,92 F.3d 446, 454 (7th Cir. 1996) and Flores v Morgan Hill Unified School Dist., 324 F.3d 1130 (9th Cir. 2003).
    My advice...

    First and foremost, when your friend's son is confronted with one of these situations, priority one is GET SAFE. The last thing anyone wants to see is someone seriously injured over this. I know it is easier said than done, but I said it simply to stress it takes precedence over everything else.

    Second, your friend's son will need to become an expert at articulating and writing a high quailty AP style wire report lead because priority two is DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. He needs to keep a journal of and report to school authorities each and every incident, describing what happened, who was present (not just the assailants, but any potential witnesses), where the incident occurred and when it occurred. Be detailed. Be specific.

    When reporting the incident to school authorities, do so verbally and if the official does not create a written incident report in his presence, he needs to insist that he is not leaving the office until they do or until he gets to write out a signed handwritten written account of the incident that is countersigned for acknowledgement by the school official (preferably witnessed/notarized by someone like the school secretary) and photocopied so that he has a copy when he leaves. If they refuse, he is within his rights to ask them to call the police to report the incident since the police will definitely make a written report. I can't stress this enough...insist on it. Make it crystal clear to school officials that there will be a written record of the incident and that they do not have a choice in that regard. This should do a lot for his self confidence being able to stand up to the authority figures who are up to now refusing to help such as if they refuse to allow a written record he should feel confident and justified in saying "Then call the police. I want to report an assault." And if they refuse to call the police, the he should at the next available opportunity and be sure to also inform the police of the school's refusal since hindering the reporting of a crime constitutes atleast one crime if not more. (In Texas atleast, if it is a public official hindering the reporting of a crime, it can constitute a felony offense of official oppression.)

    (to be continued...)

    Posted by: Craig | May 9, 2007 3:17:23 PM

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