LEHI, Utah — A Utah school district is on the defensive after outing a 14-year middle school student to his parents, claiming administrators were being “proactive” in preventing possible bullying.
The incident began last week when students in a Willowcreek Middle School class were assigned to create an advertisement about themselves to hang on the classroom wall.
One 14-year-old student’s ad was about him being gay.
The teacher asked the student if he wanted his ad put up on the wall, and he responded yes.
But school officials later worried that the student might be a potential target for bullying because of negative comments overheard in the hallway, according to Alpine School District spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley.
“If there is the potential for a bullying or a harassment situation, it’s the responsibility of the school to step in and to make sure the student is safe,” she said.
The assistant principal decided it was important to let the boy’s parents know about their concerns over bullying, and after the student “reluctantly” agreed to let school officials contact his parents, they informed the boy’s parents that their son is gay. At the boy’s request, he was not present when his parents were told.
Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, said she was “disturbed” by the incident.
“It’s important to me that school officials deal with bullying issues and don’t cause another problem for the child by outing him to his parents,” she said. “That conversation can be really devastating to young people when their family rejects them. Once you’ve uttered the words, ‘I’m gay,’ your home life can change forever.”
“The administrator did exactly the right thing,” said Bromley, defending the school’s action. “We are not going to back down. We take bullying very, very seriously.”
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network urged caution in these situations.
“Schools should not out LGBT students without their consent,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Outing a student not only violates their right to privacy, but also could compromise their safety. Parents can be notified of their child being bullied at school, but without disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
A Facebook page was launched in support of the student, but Bromley said some of the information on the page was inaccurate, including the claim that the district suspended the student. She said his parents chose to keep him home from school this week.