BURNEY, Calif. — Several months after the parents of two multiracial Japanese American teenagers alleged that their children were being subjected to racial slurs and a physical threat, Fall River Joint Unified School District has approved an anti-bullying policy at Burney Junior Senior High School.
The policy, which the District’s board of trustees approved on Nov. 4, states that the district prohibits harassment or bullying “based on real or perceived race, color, religion (creed), national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, or on the basis of association with others identity and expression, disability, or on the basis of association with others identified by these categories.” Earlier this year, the children’s mother, Linda J. Davis, told the Nichi Bei Times that Katie and Justin — who has autism — have endured being called “Jap” by their classmates for years.
There had been other incidents over the years, Davis had said, including one in which Katie’s 10th grade social studies teacher made her sit in the back of the room on Dec. 7, the date that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Davis children are one-quarter Japanese.
On Jan. 7, the harassment intensified even further when a student “brandished a [butter] knife with one hand while making a slashing motion across his neck with the other hand,” Davis and her husband stated in a letter to District Superintendent Larry Snelling.
The following day, Justin, 16, overheard a locker room conversation between the boy who drew the knife and two classmates, where one of the boys stated that the Nikkei “needed to go back to the rice fields where he belonged,” Davis said.
While Davis is “pleased” with the district’s actions, she said in an e-mail that “we will never understand why the district was so resistant to a policy that made the school environment safer for all students. It has been very disappointing that we had to go the route we did and take 10 months for the district to finally do the right thing.”
Davis said she had seen a draft of the policy and added that “our attorneys had some concerns about the initial draft.” Julia Harumi Mass, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said she was pleased that the district took the family’s concern seriously.
The policy defines bullying as “someone trying to take power over another. Any word, look, sign or physical act that harms a person’s body, feelings or personal possessions is bullying… Unwanted harassment and attacks or provoking harassment and attacks on others.”
The school, the policy further states, will investigate all complaints of harassment, and discipline or respond to “any member of the school community who is found to have violated this policy.”
When contacted by the Nichi Bei Weekly, Superintendent Larry Snelling declined to comment about the policy.
For the first offense, the student will receive a one-day suspension “or alternative means of correction” and counseling. The student will also complete a worksheet that addresses their actions and asks them to reassess their choices, and “a bullying referral” will be submitted to the administrator. The parent will be notified.
For the third offense, the student will receive a three-day suspension “or alternative means of correction” and counseling. The student will also complete the worksheet. A parent conference will be called, and the student may be referred to an appropriate program.
Mass stressed that additional training must be given to Burney’s students and staff so that there’s a clear understanding of what’s unacceptable behavior. She added that she is hopeful that meaningful measures will be taken to enforce the policy so students like Justin can have a safe school experience.
Davis said that her son hopes to create an informational Website to help other students who are being bullied.