Las Vegas Sun

December 12, 2017

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Parents, lawmakers want anti-bullying law at private, charter schools

CARSON CITY — Laura Hernandez didn’t believe her son when at 4 years old he said he wanted to be a girl.

But after years of buying Hot Wheels toys and trying to convince him he was born to become a man, Hernandez sought counseling when her son at 11 said he could never be happy as a male.

“I had become my child’s first bully,” Hernandez said Tuesday. “I did these things because I didn’t know better.”

Hernandez’s son is transgender and now a young woman known as Christina. While her child’s transformation from male to female improved things “significantly” at home, the gender transition at school was nothing short of awful, Hernandez said, because neither staff nor students were educated on how to approach it.

Hernandez testified Tuesday in front of the Senate Committee on Education that Christina was barred from entering the girls locker room during her physical education classes and instead changed clothes in the nurse’s room across the hall. Christina kept her clothes in a school counselor’s office and routinely went through the embarrassment of “outing” herself to confused hall monitors and school staff who couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to change around other students.

One time, when the class was canceled and the female students were instead treated to a movie in the locker room, Hernandez testified that Christina was shut inside an office and an instructor closed the blinds to block any sight of the girls in her locker room.

“The message my child was given at school was, ‘What’s wrong with you, you are not like the other girls and you are not worthy of sharing the same space as them,’” Hernandez said.

The mother of the now 14-year-old high school freshman in the Clark County School District hopes Senate Bill 225, which aims to establish a training program for schoolteachers, faculty, coaches and administrators in dealing with students with “diverse gender identities or expressions” will help transgender students in Nevada avoid the same adversity her daughter has worked to overcome over the past three years.

SB225, which expands current laws against bullying and cyberbullying in schools, outlined in Nevada Revised Statute 388, also adds private and charter schools to existing laws preventing such bullying in public schools.

“There’s no reason a student should be denied a safe and respectful learning environment simply because they don’t attend a public school,” said SB225 sponsor Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas.

State law defines bullying as a deliberate act that “exposes a person repeatedly and over time to one or more negative actions which is highly offensive to a reasonable person” and either physically or emotionally harms, threatens to harm, or manipulates an imbalance in power.

Under current law, all school employees must undergo training to detect, report, investigate and stop acts of bullying within 24 hours of seeing it. A CCSD anti-bullying website allowing anyone to anonymously report a suspected bullying incident calls for a school administrator to investigate and report the incidents within 10 days of the tip's posting.

Hernandez’s testimony was one of several such accounts from Nevada parents whose children were negatively affected by bullying.

Las Vegas parent Jason Lamberth testified that his daughter Hailee committed suicide in 2013, just three days after her 13th birthday, because she was “bullied to death” at school.

Like Hernandez, Lamberth, who since his daughter’s suicide has served as an advocate for anti-bullying laws, suggested Hailee may still be alive if staff and administrators had proper training for recognizing and reporting such harassment, and more resources existed at the time for his daughter to seek help.

Lamberth was instrumental in moving forward Senate Bill 504, known as Hailee’s law, through the 2015 Nevada Legislature. That law added a 24-hour bullying hotline and funded the placement of 220 social workers across 160 public schools, among other anti-bullying resources.

But he testified the law must expand to include students at private and charter schools, who are not protected under current Nevada anti-bullying regulations.

“Bullying presents one of the greatest health risks to children, youth and young adults,” Lamberth said. “We owe it to all of the children in our state to ensure each of them have the opportunity to excel in a safe learning environment.”