Sirdeaner Walker, whose 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his life earlier this year after constant bullying at school, testified Tuesday before the Massachusetts Legislatureís Joint Committee on Education, urging the passage of a comprehensive anti-bullying bill.
GLSEN has partnered with Sirdeaner to raise awareness on the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in our nation's schools. In July, Sirdeaner Walker testified on Capitol Hill in support of the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act.
The following is Sirdeaner Walker's testimony before the Massachusetts Legislatureís Joint Committee on Education:
November 17, 2009
Good morning. I want to thank the distinguished members of the Massachusetts Legislature here today for inviting me to speak at this important hearing.
My name is Sirdeaner Walker and I live with my three children in my hometown of Springfield. Seven months ago, I was an ordinary working mom, looking after my family and doing the best I could as a parent.
But my life changed forever on April 6, 2009.
That was the night I was cooking dinner when my son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, went to his room where I imagined heíd be doing his homework or playing his videogames. Instead, I found him hanging by an extension cord tied around his neck.
He was 11 years old.
Carl liked football and basketball and playing video games with his little brother. He loved the Lord and he loved his family.
What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life? That question haunts me to this day, and I will probably never know the answer.
What we do know is that my son was being bullied relentlessly at school. Other kids were pushing him around, calling him names, saying he acted ďgay,Ē and calling him ďfaggot.Ē When I learned this, I went straight to the school to inform them and demand that they do something. Instead, they told me it was just ordinary social interaction that would work itself out.
I desperately wish they had been right. But like the vast majority of schools in this state, they just didnít know how to deal with bullying. They simply didnít have the policies or the training to make it better. And the problem just got worse.
After Carl died, I could have stayed at home and mourned him, but instead, Iíve chosen to get involved, to speak out about school bullying Ė and I have learned a lot in a short time.
And the most important thing Iíve learned is that bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up. It can be prevented. And there isnít a moment to lose.
That is why I am here today. Educators need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school. And each of you can make sure they have that guidance and support by making comprehensive anti-bullying policies mandatory at every school in Massachusetts.
And when I say comprehensive, I mean policies that include provisions for training school staff, mechanisms for tracking and reporting data to allow us to measure our progress, and enumerated categories of protection.
Enumeration is essential to protecting as many students as possible from bullying and harassment because it underscores not only that ALL students are protected; but also those students that are most likely to be bullied and harassed.
Research shows that students who live in states with enumerated laws and policies report less overall harassment and are far less likely to skip class because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Further, history and the Supreme Court tell us that enumerating policies is necessary. Girls would not have sports and our schools would not be integrated if policymakers had not specifically addressed these inequities by enumerating categories like sex and race in our laws.
So I stress that any anti-bullying legislation you pass must include enumeration of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability and any other distinguishing characteristic if your action is to make a real difference.
No matter the potential for controversy, we have to act.
Since my sonís passing, I have partnered with an organization called GLSEN, which stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. GLSEN was founded right here in the state of Massachusetts, and has been the lead national organization working to create safe schools for all students. Through GLSEN I have met students, teachers, elected officials and education leaders all committed to this issue, and I have learned to use my voice to be an anti-bullying advocate.
Now my son Carl was only 11. He didnít identify as gay or as straight or anything like that. He was a child. Those kids at his school called him those names because they were probably the most hurtful things they could think of to say. And they hit their mark.
I know now that bullying is not a race issue, or a religious issue, and itís not a gay issue, or a straight issue. Itís a safety issue. Itís about what kind of learning environments we want for our children and how far weíre willing to go to protect and teach them. As a woman of deep faith, I know that the only way to achieve this goal is to find common ground, and passing comprehensive legislation will offer a significant step forward in reaching that objective.
The commonwealth of Massachusetts has long been a national leader in advocating for and protecting all or our youth and in finding that common ground. And we now have an opportunity to continue that leadership.
So in closing, I thank you once again for the honor of this opportunity, and I ask you to please do everything in your power to make sure that no other family has to go through what my family went through. Please help us to put a stop to school bullying.