A Surprise teen who dropped out of school due to incessant bullying because of his sexual orientation was one of many speakers last week during a teleconference with President Barack Obama that hoped to shed light on ways to make schools safer.
The White House Conference on Bullying Prevention brought together educators, experts, politicians and bullied teens — parents represented some teens who had taken their lives because of the incessant ridicule — to shed light on how the issue affects families and communities.
The panel also discussed measures that can be put in place to curb the trend that has led to increased physical and emotional torment and distress — and even suicide.
Former Willow Canyon High School student Caleb Laieski, who gained national media attention for urging the Dysart Unified School District to change policies and provide more protection for gay students, said he appreciated how Obama and other federal officials listened and asked thought-provoking questions to understand his and other teens’ plight.
“A strong message was sent across the country,” Laieski said of the conference and the positive steps he believes can soon take place with the right leadership.
Laieski, 16, said he hopes the discussion can lead to online social networks being able to better verify users’ identities in order to deter bullying, as well as provide bullied teens the ability to contact law enforcement with the assurances that their concerns will be taken seriously and addressed.
The Surprise teen also hopes comprehensive federal legislation can be drafted into law that would protect LGBT students and other tormented youths in school, rather than their concerns and pleas being dismissed or not taken seriously enough by school administrators.
“It doesn’t make sense,” says Laieski, who was the victim of incessant ridicule by way of homophobic slurs both on and off campus. “It should be easy to protect kids.”
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.