Hercules High School in the northern reaches of San Francisco's Bay Area has been in the news recently for all of the reasons that a school doesn't want to be in the news. Bullying by students, alleged bullying by the principal, a federal investigative report detailing the school's lack of effort in addressing complaints of bullying, and an overwhelming vote of "no confidence" in the principal by the faculty all bleed into the press and/or go viral on the Internet.
And now it has gotten worse.
On November 13 16-year-old transgender girl student Jewlyes Gutierrez got into a fight with several girl students on campus who had reportedly been bullying her. Gutierrez says she had reported the bullying incidents to her principal but nothing had been done to stem the behavior of the other girls.
Eventually Gutierrez was charged with misdemeanor battery (the only student charged in the incident). The allegation will be dropped, however, if she successfully completes a conflict resolution program.
In December the West Contra Costa school board held a special meeting to address bullying and harassment on the heals of a investigation by the federal Office of CIvil Rights discovered that the district had been failing to correct the response to those issues.
In January 94% of the school's teachers voted that they had no confidence in Principal Jennifer Bender, saying that she had created "a toxic environment for students and staff."
Then last Monday a 15-year-old transgender boy student at the high school told police that he had been sexually assaulted by three other boys while using the boys' restroom. The attackers are only described as being 16 to 17 years old.
The unnamed transgender boy reportedly was leaving the restroom at around 11 am when the attackers pushed inside a stall and physically and sexually assaulted him. The victim went to the student health center after the attack and was then taken by ambulance to the hospital; he is listed in stable condition and is expected to recover.
Hercules police spokesperson Officer Connie Van Putten said that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. As of yet no suspects have been identified or arrested.
He was forced into the handicap stall and physically and sexually assaulted.
Many times, victims, cannot, at least initially, identify their attackers in this type of an event.
--Reserve Detective Captain Connie Van Putten
We do know the suspects made derogatory remarks to the victim, which caused us to carry this as a hate crime, as well as a sexual assault.
It's terrible anytime an assault happens to any student. Our hope is that the education that goes along with this bill reduces that likelihood. We know that these things have always happened; we just want to eliminate them to the extent that it's possible.
If those students feel like they have impunity in attacking a transgender kid ... then these types of attacks will continue and only get worse. The school, the district, the police and the district attorney need to make clear that this will not be tolerated.
--Carlos Alcala, a spokesman for state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who wrote AB1266, The School Success and Opportunity Act intended to protect transgender students
It's a tragedy. We ... extend our sympathies and apologies to the victim. You hope that he is feeling better.
Obviously things are running amok at Hercules. We have to do better. This is all escalating and starting to accumulate. Really, it's an unsafe environment at the school and a lot of people are concerned.
--West Contra Costa Unified School District board president Charles Ramsey
I want to tell the parents, my heart goes out to them.
I feel really bad for the victim. As a school board member, we're horrified by what happened, it's terrible.
Ramsey also had words for the boys who committed the assault:
You will be expelled, you will be punished and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. You can't assault students on campus, no matter who they are.
Pinole native Tiffany Woods, transgender programs manager at Tri-City Health Center in Fremont, said Contra Costa has a history of failing to address issues pertaining to transgender youth.
I know Contra Costa from the fact that I went to high school there. Contra Costa is just a much more conservative district. I can't imagine this kid has a whole lot of support out there. Where are they going to get it from?