What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we ask children all the time. We encourage them to be honest and open about their hopes and dreams. The question is not asked and censored prior to family gatherings. We don’t scold a little girl in front of her grandparents telling her; “no Mary, you can’t be a firefighter, pick something else.” But that is essentially what a Fullerton Union High School (FUHS) Assistant Principal did during a Mr. Fullerton Contest on April 3rd. In this case, it wasn’t just grandparents in the room, it was fellow students and their family members in a High School auditorium.
The student was removed by the Assistant Principal, Joe Abell, from the Mr. Fullerton competition Tuesday night after giving his answer to a similar question. When asked where he saw himself in 10 years, the student said he hoped to find the love of his life, to marry him and he hoped for the legalization of gay marriage. After the student was done giving his answer, Abell disqualified him from the contest.
Fullerton Union High School District superintendent George J. Giokaris released a statement yesterday saying that “the District has concluded that [removing the student from the competition] was not handled appropriately by the Assistant Principal.” The letter went on to state “the student’s statement made during the Mr. Fullerton contest at FUHS on April 3, 2012, regarding the student’s future plans and hopes did not violate any school rules.”
By Wednesday morning students had organized protests calling on the administrator to publicly apologize for his actions. Some students wrote that they hoped for a future where school administrators are more tolerant of diversity. That morning, at about 10:25 am the administrator issued an apology during morning announcements over the school’s public address system. The apology had two components:
- A personal apology, which named the student, for any embarrassment the Assistant Principal’s actions may have caused the student.
- An apology to all students and staff members for the way the situation was handled. The Assistant Principal acknowledged that he did not handle the situation appropriately.
According to the district statement, prior to the announcement Abell apologized in person to the student for the way the situation was handled and got the student’s permission before using his name in the announcement.
For his handling of this matter Assistant Principal Joe Abell deserves a “F”, the Superintendent deserves a “D” for failing the students of FUHS, and the rest of the district, by not ensuring his administrators are properly trained in the basics of diversity and tolerance.
Last year Governor Brown signed into law, SB48, a bill requiring public schools to include the contributions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in social studies curriculum.
“History should be honest,” the governor said in a statement. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.”
It should not be necessary for there to be a law requiring teachers and administrators to ensure that students are allowed to be honest about their future hopes and dreams. Had the student altered on word in his statement saying that he hoped to find the live of his life and marry her, and left out the part about gay marriage, I doubt the administrator would have taken the same action.
According to the district’s statement; “the Assistant Principal believed to be a statement that was off script and not pre-approved.” This statement presumes that the Assistant Principal would have approved the student’s comment had it been submitted. His actions however, seem to indicate that approval might not have been the likely case. It is disturbing that school administrators even find the need to pre-approve the answers of high school students to the question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”
The district needs to address both its training of teachers and administrators regarding diversity, and wisdom of pre-approving contestant answers in a contest. If a student provides an answer that violates a school policy then take appropriate action, but requiring a student to submit his or her answers to personal questions in advance implies to possibility of censorship. That is not the lesson we need to teach high school students about honesty and responsibility.
It has been reported in Voice of OC that student protest organizers also are asking for “a direct change to the rules stated in the student handbook so that it directly includes rules against bullying based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity. We know that with the support of our fellow students, we can bring justice to this situation, and make a better future for those on campus.”
This particular need was supposedly addressed when Governor Brown signed AB 9, Seth’s Law, into law. The new law is designed to address the pervasive problem of school bullying by providing California schools with tools to create a safe school environment for all students. It was authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and cosponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBTQ equality (including Equality California, the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and The Trevor Project). The bill is named in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student from Tehachapi, CA, who took his life in September 2010, after years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.
We can only hope that the Fullerton Union High School District will act as swiftly as Assistant Principal Joe Abell did in demonstrating poor judgment, to implement the policies required by Seth’s Law.