Thursday Reading List: Sexual Assault in Schools, What Kids Watch on Netflix, and the Flint Saga Continues

Education Week picked up a big story from The Associated Press, which outlines the extent of sexual assault cases in K-12 schools in America:

Across the U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs, and even elementary schools—a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore. Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. Though that figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation's 50 million K-12 students, it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don't track them, and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence. A number of academic estimates range sharply higher ... Elementary and secondary schools have no national requirement to track or disclose sexual violence, and they feel tremendous pressure to hide it.

This article is a hard read, but we all should grapple with the ramifications of the findings. One point that stood out for me: many incidences of sexual assault are mischaracterized as bullying. Such false categorization happens for various reasons, but an obvious one is a lack of understanding of what constitutes sexual activity, on the part of both teachers and students. A more robust approach to sex education could help with that.

This phenomenon of school-based violence is getting a lot of attention in popular culture right now, particularly on the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why." Cassi Feldman of Chalkbeat has the story:

The show, based on a young adult novel, focuses on 13 audio tapes left behind by a high school student who later commits suicide, each one blaming a person in her life. On Tuesday, the city emailed principals a letter to send home, warning parents that “the series addresses sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and the failure of adults to respond to students’ concerns.” The series, recently named the “most tweeted about show of 2017,” is wildly popular among teens. But guidance counselors across the country have raised concerns that it could glorify suicide and sends the wrong message to viewers about how to handle emotional pain.

Erika Sanzi of Good School Hunting made similar points last week:

Articles and television segments about the series are popping up all over the place and resources that provide conversation starters, fact sheets, and tips for parents and educators in dealing with the series are readily available online. Facebook is full of threads of parents discussing the series, expressing concern, and debating whether or not their kids should be allowed to watch it. A mental health expert on Good Morning America describes this series as an ‘entry-point’ to the conversation around teen suicide and says that if a parent decides to allow their child to watch the series, they should “co-view” it, with the parent not only watching the show but also watching their child’s reactions to watching it.

I am neither a mental health expert, nor a parent of adolescent children. If you do have kids watching this show, it sounds like there are extensive resources - both in schools and online - for discussing the themes involved.

In other news, Monique Judge of The Root shares the latest from Flint, Michigan:

More than 8,000 residents who have unpaid bills received notices that if their balances are not paid by May 19, a tax lien will be placed on their homes, according to a report by NBC News. Melissa Mays, a mother and activist who lives in Flint, received a notice in the mail on Friday that states if she doesn’t pay nearly $900 by May 19, a lien will be placed on her property. “I got scared, probably for the first time since this all started, this actually scared me,” Mays told NBC. Those who received the notices have water bills that have not been paid for six months or more. For those who do not pay by the deadline, a lengthy process begins that could end in foreclosure.

Me after reading this news:

Me after putting my phone back together and processing the news:

It's important to remember that, because Flint is under emergency fiscal management, the state of Michigan is the responsible party for most of this disaster. It's also worth noting that there is mounting evidence that lead contamination is a much bigger national issue than folks understand. I realize that the reading list was a bit of a bummer today, but have a nice day anyway!