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KHSD students call for districtwide committee to address harassment following alleged incident at Frontier High School

Nikolas Lopez, a senior from Liberty High School, is no stranger to facing discrimination and harassment simply for celebrating the LGBTQ community. 

"I've faced discrimination at school for bringing a Pride flag to school on National Coming Out Day," he said to the Kern High School District Board of Trustees Tuesday night. "I had hateful posts spread about me on social media with my picture."

Though one problem was tackled, a new one arose: the fact that that type of treatment was allowed to happen.

"It's heartbreaking that proactive measures were not established to prevent this from happening," he added.

Following an alleged incident of harassment that took place after Frontier High School's Gay Straight Alliance meeting last week, Lopez and several of his friends from the district have seen and heard enough. They're now calling for a districtwide student-led committee that will have direct and proactive action when it comes to discrimination, harassment and intolerance surrounding LGBTQ and other minority students.

According to a Facebook post on a Frontier High School parent page, a parent wrote Gay Straight Alliance members were allegedly met with students holding Make America Great Again flags and "straight kids holding hands yelling 'this is what's right.'"

"We're all a part of a larger organization that's known as Bakersfield Young Democrats ... and we have this group chat where we all talk to each other and one of the Frontier students had let us know about this," said Martin Higuera, a junior at Centennial High School. "It had really blown up on social media as well. Everybody was really appalled by this in our group."

But, Higuera added, he and his friends were not surprised it happened.

"We're in a very conservative community that doesn't really value inclusiveness. Often times the LGBTQ+ students and other minorities do not feel represented or understood."

A statement sent by KHSD last week stated, "The Kern High School District and Frontier High School recognize that students have varying viewpoints and opinions. One of the goals of the educational process is to teach students how to communicate respectfully with each other. The reported incident that occurred on (Aug. 28) at Frontier High School is currently being investigated. Once the investigation is complete, appropriate follow-up measures will be taken."

Two trustees said action was taken and eight students were suspended for several days, but the district could not comment on or confirm the suspensions due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

During the board's meeting Tuesday, students throughout the district approached trustees one by one to share their personal or friends' experiences with harassment over sexual orientation. 

"People at my school literally laugh at my peers behind their backs on social media and right in front of their faces for things they can't control," said Gina Yum, a junior at Liberty High School. "I have personally comforted many people suffering through depression and anxiety suffering from this form of harassment."

Lopez shared statistics from the 2017-2018 California Healthy Kids survey and noted that 34 percent of ninth grade respondents disagree or strongly disagree that school is a safe space for LGBTQ students and 71 percent hear LGBTQ slurs at school.

In hopes of being more proactive and having more inclusive environments on school campuses, the students want to create a student-led committee that would have representatives from each district school engaging in direct communication. They would also like to have allies and LGBTQ experts who can help formulate policies part of the committee.

"We want to counteract all of these problems before they're able to happen so that we understand all the different environments that are happening at the different high schools," Yum said.

They also would like more transparency when it comes to sensitivity trainings done throughout the district. 

The students noted Frontier's Gay Straight Alliance members fear the harassment will happen again at a future meeting, but they stand with the idea of creating a districtwide committee.

Trustee Janice Graves said she is all for having students form this committee, but she's not sure if all discrimination will be erased because of it.

"They want these remarks to not come up, and that's just not going to happen," Graves said. "People are mean and cruel, and we need to make sure these students and all students know what respect is and know how to treat people right."

"I don't know how to stop it, but it's a good first step," she added referring to the committee.

Overall, the students recognize and appreciate that the district has taken action, but it shouldn't always be reactive. 

"We don't want our school district just reacting to the problems. We want them to have solutions to prevent these problems from happening in the first place," Higuera said.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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