Written by: Lisa Hao
On May 3, Gunn teachers led a school-wide lesson on disability-based bullying during an extended E period in their respective classes. The prepared lesson highlighted three principal points: the definition of disability-based harassment, how to prevent bullying and how to report it as a witness.
The Office of Civil Rights required the entire Palo Alto Unified School District to conduct this lesson after the parents of a bullied, disabled student filed a lawsuit.
The staff hopes that the lesson raised awareness and taught Gunn’s campus to be more conscious in their actions. “As simple as it sounds, we all want to create a world that is nice and kind,” English teacher Kathryn Pomilia said. “A lot of bullying is invisible and the lesson made it visible by raising awareness and promoting kindness.”
For some students, the lesson did succeed in its goal. “I thought it was informative and good for people to be aware of [disability-based harassment],” senior Ben Sampson said.
Since the focus of the lesson was specifically about disability-based harassment, it was different from other lessons. “I think raising awareness about any underrated community is imperative,” Pomilia said. “It raised awareness about a problem that is persistent but also invisible.”
The extended period started with distribution of a paper guide listing how to report bullying, the consequences of harassment and California law regarding bullying. Teachers presented PowerPoint slides about the reasons for having the lesson, as well as the definitions of disability and disability-based harassment. The lesson included videos from the Department of Education and six discussion questions, ending with the difference between an upstander and a bystander and how the law deals with bullies.
Although bullying can result in expulsion depending on the severity, freshman Andre Augustin believes that the district does not enforce discipline harshly enough. “The most surprising part was that it took someone to be crying for the policy to be changed,” Augustin said. “I thought that the school policy would be stricter.”
Regardless of the policy, the adminstration believes that Gunn already harbors a safe, inviting environment. “[Students] feel safe, they want to be here and they’re welcomed and that’s the culture we want to keep,” Villalobos said.
The lesson should help foster an inclusive atmosphere. “[Gunn] feels like a very supportive community,” Pomilia said. “Hopefully this lesson helped students learn to be even kinder.”