Tall, intent, handsome, bespectacled and somber, Daniel Adams on Monday stood in front of the Payson Unified School Board and described his long torment.
“When I started seventh-grade (here), I didn’t know what the words ‘faggot’ or ‘gay’ meant,” he said.
But bullies who focused on the sensitive, intelligent-looking boy soon taught him.
“They pulled their pants down — and forced me to look at them. They asked me at least once every day about my sexuality. And when I complained, (the school) treated the bully as the victim,” said Adams.
He said such harassment has led to many suicides. “One jumps in front of a bus. One jumps into a river,” said the self-possessed student quietly. “Why do you think half of the girls at school have anorexia? You see fights at least once a day, every day. So how many have to die? One more? I’d like it to be zero.”
The board listened without comment to the wrenching appeal that burst forth on the public comment portion of the board’s agenda. Technically, board members aren’t supposed to comment on any question that might lead to a policy change unless the topic is listed on the published agenda.
Robin Mathews, representing a parent support group for gay and lesbian teens, echoed Adams’ observation. “This young man has had to leave Payson High School because of bullying,” she said.
The district officials who deal most directly with bullying weren’t available before press time. However, Superintendent Casey O’Brien provided figures on criminal reports at the high school for the 2009-10 school year. That report compiled by the school resource officer showed 13 misdemeanor arrests, two felony arrests and seven assaults. The report listed only five reported cases of harassment or bullying.
However, if national surveys hold for Payson, hundreds of students face a daily gauntlet of blows, taunts and harassment.
Adams’ testimony came on the eve of a two-hour national town hall Wednesday on bullying, which was simulcast in Arizona from the North Canyon High School auditorium and drew the local participation of State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal, Attorney General Tom Horne, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris and others.
National surveys suggest that one in four students say they have been harassed or bullied on school grounds, according to the town hall backgrounder.
Another 23 percent say that they have been victims of electronic bullying. Two cases nationally in which people have posted videos of male students on the Internet have resulted in suicides.
Bullying peaks in the middle school years, according to figures compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. Figures for 2009, the most recent available, show that bullying and discipline problems affect 42 percent of middle school students, 21 percent of elementary school students and 22 percent of high school students.
The detailed figures from the study showed that 43 percent of sixth-graders are bullied and 14 percent suffer physical injuries. Those totals decline slightly year by year from that peak. By 12th-grade, 24 percent of students are bullied and 4 percent suffer physical injuries as a result.
The Payson Unified School District has just recently adopted a policy governing the use of the Internet by both teachers and students. The policy mostly focuses on barring communications between teachers and students through forums like Facebook and private e-mail accounts and on barring students from using things like cell phones and texting during class. However, it also laid out standards for harassment through the Internet and established a strong basis for action against harassment with electronic devices.
The national survey also showed that students suffering from bullying have significantly lower grades and are much less likely to graduate.
A national study published this month in the American Sociological Review concluded that 30 percent of American students face harassment or bullying each year — which amounts to 5.7 million youngsters.
The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 students skip school each day to avoid bullying.
Studies show that bullying dramatically increases the odds a student will suffer from depression, social isolation, health problems, academic problems and suicide. Studies show that effects often can persist for both the bullies and their victims well into adulthood.