RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school district has several programs in schools that are supposed to help combat bullying, but trustees learned during a special board meeting that they are not doing nearly enough.

In the wake of a federal civil rights report that found persistent sexual harassment in the district, and several reports of bullying, including one involving a transgender student attacked by a group of girls, students and parents Monday urged the board to confront the problem head-on.

In response, the board agreed to update its outdated regulations for student conduct, bullying and sexual harassment and bring them back for public review on Jan. 29.

The testimony prompted Trustee Todd Groves to apologize to students in the community who have been bullied or harassed. He also addressed allegations by some speakers that students or staff had been bullied by other staff members.

"We have to be intentional and purposeful," he said. "We have to be sure others are not using power for control."

More than half of West Contra Costa high school students who responded to a 2012-13 California School Climate survey reported that harassment and bullying were moderate or severe problems, according to a staff report.

Jewlyes Gutierrez, a 16-year-old sophomore at Hercules High, described the taunts of classmates before being attacked at the school last month. After Monday's meeting, Gutierrez said a vice principal had been told about escalating verbal abuse days before the fight, but the bullies were allowed to return to class.

"When you report something, it should be investigated and something should be done," Gutierrez said. "Putting them back in class doesn't really do anything."

Gutierrez and the girls were suspended after the fight.

Although the district reported that incidents of bullying had declined, it did not provide figures for the number of bullying and harassment complaints it had received.Associate Superintendent Wendell Greer reported that the number of suspensions for bullying and harassment offenses went down from 265 in 2011-12 to 185 in 2012-13. However, there were 200 suspensions in 2010-11 before spiking in the following year.

The district credited the overall drop in suspensions to new programs aimed at addressing underlying trauma that could lead to bullying, including restorative justice, school health centers and partnerships with organizations such as Kaiser Permanente's educational theater, the YMCA's Youth Development program for healthy living and social responsibility, STAND! For Families Free of Violence, and the RYSE Center.

Coordinators for these programs stressed that bullying should be seen as part of an overall toxic environment that hampers the education of all students. They urged the district to place a greater emphasis on expanding successful programs districtwide.

Board President Madeline Kronenberg said district staff also need better training to spot and report abuse.

Parent Yolanda Stokes said her son was bullied two years ago by the same group of girls who taunted Gutierrez, but it was her son who was kicked out of the school. He was so distraught, she said, that he became suicidal.

Fayza Ayyad said her teenage son was bullied by a teacher several years ago around Sept. 11 because his name was Asama. He was so traumatized that he later changed his name. Now, Ayyad said her 10-year-old son is bullied because of his small eyes.

Kronenberg said the district should strive to become a leader in addressing bullying and harassment. According to an agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights, which recently reported it found persistent sexual harassment in the district, trustees unanimously approved a Title IX Educational Equity Director position. The new director will create a districtwide program to address sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and bullying.

MORE INFORMATION:
Additional details about the special West Contra Costa school board meeting are available by calling 510-231-1101 or by visiting www.wccusd.net. Click on "Board of Education," then select Dec. 2 under "Agendas, Packets and Minutes."
To see video clips from the meeting, along with the meeting PowerPoint and current regulations related to procedures for filing complaints, visit www.contracostatimes.com.