Deliberate indifference. It’s a lawyerly way of saying that somebody knows about — but doesn’t do anything to fix — a problem. Different people have different reasons for resorting to a state of deliberate indifference, and we can only hope we don’t see it from a fire fighter en route to a disaster. Which is why it was so disconcerting to see deliberate indifference plain on the face of Assistant Principal Kim Lockwood – while watching her students torment the same boy over and over.
As depicted in the new film Bully, Lockwood is one of many adults who seemed to freeze in the face of blatant student harassment. When a student at East Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa, told Lockwood that he had been getting death threats from other students, Lockwood didn’t offer counseling or substantive conflict resolution. Instead, she suggested that they shake hands and move on.
Later, Lockwood blamed the bullied students for not fixing the situation themselves. She called the school bus, where twelve-year-old Alex Libby was repeatedly punched, threatened, and stabbed, “good as gold”. Alex and other students started skipping school because they were harassed so ruthlessly without protection.
Alex’s mom Jackie refused to believe that this was the best her son could have. “The assumption when you send your kids to school is that you are putting them in someone else’s care that is just as capable as yours.”
California legislators agreed with Jackie – not AP Lockwood — that school officials shouldn’t have the luxury of resorting to deliberate indifference. Seth’s Law (AB 9), which was approved last year and takes effect on July 1st, 2012, requires that schools be proactive in establishing an atmosphere of safety in their schools. Seth’s Law requires that school personnel must intervene if they see an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying. It also requires school districts to adopt strong anti-bullying policies that spell out prohibited motivations for bullying, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It calls for schools to adopt a specific process for receiving and investigating complaints of bullying, to publicize those policies and processes, and to post them on their district websites.
Seth’s Law recognizes, finally, that saying “kids will be kids” is an act of deliberate indifference, and it’s unacceptable: student safety should not be left outside the schoolhouse gates. Seth’s Law will help make students like Alex feel safe and comfortable in their own schools so they can freely pursue the education to which they are entitled. That’s something we should demand for every last one of our children.