Standing up for their rights

A group of about a dozen students were out on the lawn protesting against bullying due to a students race, for being LGBTQ or even just being different.

ATLANTIC — A group of students holding signs and flags were protesting at Audubon Community Schools Monday, trying to raise awareness of issues like racism and homophobia.

Gabriella Hunnicutt was among the group of about a dozen students that spent the day “trying to get (that) word out.”

Hunnicutt said, “there is a lot of bullying and harassment,” in school, mostly in person, but also on social media. She said the group felt the school was not doing enough regarding complaints.

“(The issues) continue and it progressively gets worse,” she said, adding that words had a big effect. “(They) hurt, their words hurt a lot, especially coming from people you have known most of your life.”

The students didn’t provide examples of the harassment they were referencing but said parents were aware of the issues and had complained to school officials.

Bethany Meese, other of Sheridan Meese, one of the students involved in the protest, agreed, saying she remembered meeting with school officials over the years. She said bullying had been going on for some time, with racist comments and jokes, and for being LGBTQ but overall, she said, “It’s just for being different. It also depends on who you are, what your last name is, and if you aren’t part of the in-crowd, you are kind of on the outskirts, and therefore you become a target.”

Students involved with the protest hoped that the school could do a better job of enforcing rules, encouraging better behavior, and possibly giving out some kind of punishment when students say something homophobic or racist, “because it isn’t okay,” Hunnicutt said. “We feel nothing is being done, nothing is changing.”

Meese hoped the attention to the protest would help with the issues, and felt the students did a good job that day of trying to get their message out. “They weren’t causing a problem, they cleaned up after themselves,” and got both positive and negative reactions from community members and other students. “Some (community members) driving by were very supportive,” she said, while others were very negative. “This is a very difficult problem,” she said.

Meese said she planned to attend the next school board meeting, coming up on Monday, May 16, at at the high school boardroom at 7 p.m.

Regarding the protest, Superintendent Eric Trager said earlier this week that school officials had “gotten word that (the protest) was going to happen,” last week, but felt saying the protest was about bullying was “not quite accurate,” adding he thought it had more to do with gay pride and black pride (and other related topics) than bullying.

He didn’t think there were more complaints than usual, but said that students could make formal complaints if they wanted, they just had to come in and file the paperwork.

Often, he said, “when more questions are asked, we find out that it was two kids saying (bad things) to each other on social media.” That, he said, wasn’t bullying, “There is a specific definition of bullying.”

He said that those complaints are investigated. “If there is a complaint filed, we investigate that every single time.”

The school spends extraordinary time working with students, Trager said, to help them understand how to treat each other with dignity and respect.

The problem was one that wasn’t going to be solved easily, in schools and in society. “Unfortunately fixing those things — like racism and homophobia — isn’t easy, it’s a difficult problem.”

“There isn’t a simple solution to a complex problem,” he said.

Email Laura Bacon at lbacon.ant@gmail.com

This story contains original reporting by the Audubon County Advocate Journal staff. If you are not a subscriber, please consider becoming one because local journalism is only possible with your support. A subscription to Audubon County Advocate Journal plays a vital role in making this reporting possible. Thank you for your support.

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