Although most Spokane area school districts have created stringent rules to deal with harassment based on race, gender, disabilities and religion, many students feel the policies are not properly enforced.
And area teens feel it’s the daily, seemingly harmless teasing not addressed by harassment policies that leave the longest lasting effects.
“Most schools have pretty good policies, but most of the time teachers choose to ignore (the teasing,)” said one North Side high school senior. “They just don’t confront the kids in class.”
This student admitted that constant teasing - verbal and even physical harassment - has plagued him since middle school. He asked that his name be withheld. He said teachers are often apologetic, but “sometimes they let a rotten kid control the class.”
Other area teens feel the teasing or harassment often goes on without intervention from adults, with the blame being put on the victim.
One North Side student, who asked not to be identified, recalled a time when she and a friend had been harassed while attending a summer class through the Community Colleges of Spokane. After dropping the class because of the continuous torment, the girl remembered that “the dean called and said it was our fault and we had instigated it.”
The consensus among students was schools appear to have strict enough policies, but the problem comes with the enforcement of the rules.
Mary Brown, Supervisor of Student Services for Spokane School District, deals with the cases of teasing and harassment that do get reported to teachers and administrators.
“Usually after being referred here, the punishment is severe,” she said. “Sometimes it has to do with teasing that goes on with no intervention. If it hasn’t been reported, things can get very complex.”
Ivan Bush, the equal opportunity officer for Spokane schools, says there are two ways to handle it if you feel you’re being harassed - informally and formally.
The informal option would be going up to the harasser directly and telling them what he or she is doing to bother you and ask that it stop. You can also ask a neutral third party to talk with the person.
The formal option means going to a trusted adult - either the school principal, a teacher or a person designated in the building to deal with those issues.
“The biggest thing we emphasize is ‘Tell someone,”’ said Bush. “People can’t help unless they know it’s happening.”
One survey conducted by USA Weekend, which polled 222,653 students across the nation, reported that 56 percent of boys and 71 percent of girls attending sixth through 12th grade had experienced harassment in the form of slanderous comments or jokes.
What may be just a simple joke or “harmless” teasing can actually have effects that are widespread and serious. Many students admitted that such teasing had caused them to drop out of classes, rearrange their schedules or quit sports in an effort to avoid the constant taunting.
“At first you think they’re just goofing around,” said one teen about the initial reaction to teasing, “but really it’s very painful.”
Other teens have just learned to live with it, or have found ways to avoid the demeaning remarks.
One girl reported the experience was so painful that “I made sure it would never happen again.” By removing herself from uncomfortable situations, she feels things are going better now.
At any rate, students who have dealt with this new strain of “playground taunting” make it clear it’s something that won’t go away.
“This problem has always been there,” said one. “It hasn’t always been talked about or recognized until now, but now it’s come up with a force.”
According to these teens’ horrible experiences, it’s a difficult force to be reckoned with.
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