School shouldn’t be defined by protests, beating

Does the November 2009 beating of a Mount Si High School student have much in common with the 2008 uproar over the Day of Silence?

Does the November 2009 beating of a Mount Si High School student have much in common with the 2008 uproar over the Day of Silence?

Based on the private investigation by Schneider and Associates, commissioned by district Superintendent Joel Aune, not much — at least, on the surface. According to police reports and witness statements, sexual orientation had zero to do with the assault, which some describe as a fight, in the school locker room. The boy who faces a court charge in the incident didn’t even know the student he allegedly assaulted.

The run-up to the incident included taunts and alleged bullying between two groups of Mount Si students, in and out of school. The harassment went unreported to school authorities — and the beating itself, like most similar assaults at Mount Si, was never reported to the school community at large, primarily for student privacy reasons, but also because school authorities deemed it an isolated incident with little chance of spurring more violence. School administrators say plans were quickly put in place that ended the confrontations between these groups of boys.

However, if you ask the students and parents who have had negative experiences with harassment and bullying, be it over their sexual orientation or for no other reason than cruelty, last fall’s locker room fight strikes a familiar chord.

The high school has been struggling with issues of respect, safety and tolerance for a long time. While the media frenzy, protests and counter-protests at the Day of Silence have toned down, many students still stay away. Flip back to five years ago, when some 40 percent of students stayed home during the Day of Respect. Times haven’t changed.

Mount Si Principal Randy Taylor told the Valley Record last week that the number of assaults at the high school has declined over the last few years. He can point to efforts like the new Diversity and Respect Team, or DART, and the peer-to-peer Natural Helpers program as in-house efforts to change the culture at the high school. But this will be a long road.

Last February, we reported about the culture of diversity at Mount Si, and high school staff and student efforts to end harassment of students for reasons of race and sexual orientation. In it, members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance shared how hard it is to change the school culture.

When last November’s shocking beating was revealed, many members of the school community called for action. Last week, a dozen Mount Si students of all ages walked into Taylor’s office to share their concerns and describe how they had been bullied. School staff, frankly, weren’t surprised by what they heard. But the discussion offers a way to move forward, to allow the school community to address the problem at the ground level. A groundswell from the student ranks could do a lot to give efforts like those of DART some traction.

I applaud any such effort to empower students to change their school culture. Young people, as well as adults, help define Mount Si, and it is only through hard work and efforts like this that the Valley’s high school can break out of the ‘redneck’ and ‘hinterland’ labels that too many people tend to attach to it.

We can’t let our students be defined by brawls and protests anymore.