Denouncing bullying in schools

Posted by Kassy Perry

By Francisco Castro, Los Angeles y Noticias 10:25 AM, Oct. 28, 2011

A student from Bell High School is recovering at the hospital after attempting suicide. Reason: “the constant bullying” the student suffered, said Hop Tarrant, a counselor with Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA), a school-based group the student belonged to.

Apparently the student had been transferred to this school because he had been the victim of the same bullying and intimidation in his old school.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the case of the Bell student shows the reality faced by students across the country, where appearance, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic origin can make anyone a target of intimidation, harassment, threats and even aggression by other students. It’s known as “bullying,” and “bullies”.

Based on statistics on, one out of every seven students from grades 1 through 12 nationwide has been the victim of bullying or a bully himself. Additionally, roughly 160,000 students across the country skip school every day for fear of being bullied.

Bullying can be verbal, when someone uses insulting words against others; social, when someone spreads lies or rumors about others; physical, which involves harmful actions against someone’s body; and cyber bullying, when Internet, cell phones and other social networks are used to harm others.

Being gay
Julio Juárez came out of the closet and says since then he knows what “bullying” is, as he has been harassed for his sexual orientation. “When I think of elementary school, I hate it”, said Juarez, a 17-year-old student at Bell High.

When it wasn’t insults in the school halls, it was hitting or ridiculing him for being “effeminate”. “In elementary school I would get involved in fist fights almost every day”, he said.

It made him feel bad. It was not unusual for me to cry when I got home and not want to go to school the next day, Juárez said. “They made me feel that [being gay] was inappropriate, like I was a weirdo”.

Things improved when he started high school, although it was not always that way. “The first year was [insults] each period on the halls. They called me everything. Now it’s once a week or now and then”, said Juárez, one of 50 GSA members. “[With GSA] there has been more tolerance in the school”, he said.

That and participating in his first gay pride parade helped his self-esteem, he said.
“I realized I was not the only one. I don’t allow myself to become a victim”, he said. “I think others see that, and they don’t bother me as much”.

Origin and religion
Of Libyan descent, Alia Tehfi is just one of the nearly 35 Muslim students attending Bell High, where 98% of the 4,388 students are Latino. Proud of her origin and religion, Tehfi wears a veil, following Islamic tradition. But this has also made her a target of bullying. “They call us terrorists”, said the 16-year-old student. “They don’t realize that we are the victims of terrorism in our own country”.

Other times students or people on the street look at her in a discriminatory manner or make fun of her, she said. Occasionally she chooses to take off her veil so that people don’t say anything to her, she said.

As a child, Verónica Valdez was a victim of bullying. “A girl started insulting me because I didn’t speak English”, Valdez said. “She harassed me every day”.

Her 20-year-old daughter went through the same when she was nine. “There was a girl that harassed her because she said [my daughter] dressed like a little girl”, said the mother of three. “She didn’t want to go to school any more. She was afraid they were going to beat her”.

The harassment went on for weeks until her daughter was beaten by the other girl. Then she talked with the girl’s mother and the issue was left behind. But the problem came up again more than a couple of months ago with his 12-year-old son.

For days Valdez had noticed something in John David Ybarra, a boy described as smart and mellow, who suddenly didn’t want to go to school, without explaining why.

A few weeks later, J.D., as they call him at home, came home beaten up and showing scratches in the neck, back and face. He said three boys stopped him and his neighbor, who had been harassing him for a while, hit him and scratched him.

Valdez went to her neighbor’s house to complain. The bully’s parents didn’t know about the bullying and they punished their son, who hasn’t bullied J.D since, although he continues to intimidate him now and then.

“I don’t know why he bullies me”, J.D. said. His mother thinks it could be “jealousy”, because her son is popular among his peers.

As in J.D.’s case, most bullying occurs without the knowledge of parents or school authorities. And although 56% of all students have witnessed bullying in their schools, most don’t report it, for fear of the bully or of being labeled as a “tattletale”.
“Kids don’t report it because there’s definitively a fear of [the bully] or because they think it will be worse if they report it to an adult that won’t understand”, said Michelle Molina, CEO of Peacebuilders, a youth violence prevention program.

Tarrant, the GSA counselor at Bell High, knows this well. “We can’t help you unless you tell us what’s happening”, Tarrant said to students during an anti-bullying event at the school. “It takes one person to change someone’s life. You can be that person”, she said to the students.

Fran Vásquez, the school principal, agreed and asked the hundreds of students and community members attending the event to report acts of bullying. “Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be afraid. You could be saving your life or someone else’s life”, Vásquez said.

Some signs of bullying victims:

  • They come back home with clothes or other belongings missing.
  • They report losing pens, jewelry or electronics.
  • They show inexplicable injuries, difficulty sleeping and frequent nightmares.
  • They lose interest in visiting or talking with friends.
  • They are afraid or lose interest in school.
  • They start talking about suicide.
  • They avoid certain places or friends.


Veronica Valdez and her son John David Ybarra have been the victims of bullying.
Recently, John was attacked by four classmates.

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