Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Caryl Heisel
Former SMMUSD Parent 

My Son Was Bullied in Santa Monica Schools Because Other Boys Decided He's "Gay."

Shouldn't a place like Santa Monica have the most tolerant and accepting schools on earth?


August 21, 2016

File photo from Grant Elementary School. Kids pictured have no connection to story.

I am writing to shed light on my family's experience in Santa Monica. When we moved to Southern California two years ago, we specifically chose Santa Monica for many reasons - the schools had a good reputation, the community was known for being welcoming and accepting, it was walkable, it was a convenient commute to my job (under 40 minutes for LA) and the proximity to the beach was amazing.

We moved into the Grant Elementary School area in Sunset Park. Grant was a phenomenal experience for my son - Mrs. Smith was by far one of his favorite teachers ever. He learned a lot and his class was very accepting.

However, on the Pali Science trip, something happened to my son at camp. We don't fully understand the details, but apparently, something he did caused some of the boys to believe he was gay. Now whether my son is or is not gay doesn't matter - the point is, the other boys believed he was. And that is when the bullying kicked into high gear.

Stop there for a moment and think about it - in one of the most tolerant and liberal places to live in the United States - one that should be accepting of anyone - my son started being horribly bullied because other boys interpreted his actions and said he was gay. Should that matter anywhere in 2016? Especially in Santa Monica, California??

As this camp was towards the end of the year, he was able to endure the rest of the year. One boy (not from his classroom) picked him up and dumped him on his head on purpose on the ball field, but other than that, to our knowledge, the bullying was not terrible at Grant because Mrs. Smith had her class under control and had taught her students about acceptance and welcoming people different than you.

Fast forward to the beginning of school last John Adams Middle School (JAMS). We all know middle school is a difficult venture for the best of us - but what about those who are different? Are sensitive? Are transgender? Are gay? Have ADHD? Are whatever the world deems to be different? Shouldn't a place like Santa Monica be the most tolerant and accepting place on earth?

My son immediately started telling us about bullying. He was having a very difficult time at school - the things that the kids were calling my son I cannot even repeat here. Imagine the worst slur and most horrible things that could be said to any child who is thought to be or who is gay...and make them ten times worse and that is what these kids were calling my son every day, multiple times per day. There were several mornings my son curled up in a fetal position and cried so badly that he couldn't go to school - so my husband or I had to take off work to stay home with him and try to calm him down. He was also having a difficult time paying attention in class. He was fearful every day.

We reported it to the school administration. We reported it to the counselor. We reported it to the teachers. One of them had the gall to say "All kids are bullied in middle school - that is not an excuse for him not paying attention in class." We reported specific bullies - two of them by name to the school.

We thought about not letting him go on the Catalina Trip as we were very concerned about what might happen. But he wanted to go - don't get me wrong - he did have some friends who were loyal and stuck by him from The Cove Skatepark. He also had a friend who was a girl who constantly stuck up for him. One of his friends from The Cove even told the boys bullying him at lunch to "F!#% off".

But we let him go because he wanted to go. He made friends with a boy from his school who is gay - his Mom went on the trip to protect him. My husband and I couldn't do that so we let him go.

When we got to the drop off that morning, we found out our son was placed in a cabin with one of the main bullies we had reported to the school. When we went to the counselor and the head of the science department, they said he should have noticed that and asked to be changed from that cabin before that morning. First of son had asked to be placed with some of his friends. Why should he have to be in a different cabin? When we reported it, they said again "Well we can move him". Secondly, the school knew this kid was bullying him and knew that this same kid dumped him on his head in 5th grade. So why didn't they ensure he was in a safe place.

I contacted the school. My husband contacted the school. I sent an email pleading with them to move the bully and if they didn't keep him safe, I would have to take further action against the school district. Finally, they ended up moving the bully - but not before they pulled my son out in front of everyone to talk to him and the head of the science department said "I should send you home because of the email your mom sent this morning." Seriously...?????? Yes let's punish the people who are being bullied - that is just another form of bullying and from a teacher no less.

We continued to have challenges with our son/s bullies the remainder of the school year. Just before Christmas, I witnessed 10 boys bully him - one of them literally picked him up and threw him against the brick wall. He fell down, then a few of them kicked him as he got himself back up to walk into school. I ran out of my car leaving it running on Pearl Avenue - by the time I got to the boys, my son had gone in. I told them that was enough - this was going to stop today. I knew one of their mothers, so I contacted her immediately. I also contacted administration and the counselor again right away.

The school finally, finally took this seriously. One of the vice-principals got involved. She was amazing. They did a full investigation - after which she called me and said "I have to apologize to you - your son has been terrorized since his first day at our school and I am very sorry." She went on to say that it was because the boys think he is gay. In fact, before the boy picked him up and threw him against the brick wall, he asked the other boys "Is this the gay boy?" They said yes...and so he physically assaulted him.

Then they changed his schedule, suspended a couple of boys for a few days, gave a larger group detention...the boys slowly stopped saying things to him when he went back after break.

Then I got a call that changed everything...the school called and said one of my son's friends told them that he had talked about suicide. I contacted his counselor (we got him into a counselor in December for the bullying) and she said for the school to do an assessment. So they did. He shrugged it off as a joke. But then when he got home that night, I gently asked him about it. He said "Yes I have thought of suicide. The boys at school made up a song telling me to kill myself and sang it to me every day since October. You said we were going to stay in Santa Monica until I graduated from high school, so I thought there was no way out."

Thankfully...I was laid off of my job that week (probably a lot for missing work for my son) and got a severance package. My husband and I immediately pulled up roots and moved to Phoenix where we could afford for me to home school my son.

Santa Monica High School Students on the first day of classes. File photo; students pictured have no connection to the story.

I ask...what the hell is going on in the homes of parents in Santa Monica that someone who their kids believe is gay is told to kill himself??????? Every day???? Made up in a song that my son could sing back to me because he heard it every day??????

I ask the community of Santa Monica - what are you going to do about this? I know that my son is not the only boy or girl who has experienced this. We have got to be better than this.

I know that you as a news source may not do anything with this letter. But I'm sending it anyhow - I don't live there any longer, but I want this to come to light so that the people of Santa Monica can rise up and find a solution. Otherwise, someone else is not going to find out their child is suicidal until it is too late.


Carol Pfizer


Reader Comments

AlwaysWrite writes:

I went to John Adams middle school back in 1999. Back when the Internet and email was still fairly new... And as one of the first girls to develop I was teased mercilessly by other girls who said I was a 'slut' and 'whore' when I was an eleven year old who hadn't even kissed a boy yet. I received emails from girls who created a fake email account telling me I was a 'fat whale who should kill myself' kids are horrible and truly vicious. I cannot even fathom how much harder it is today than it was back then for me. The girls wrote horrible things on the bathroom walls about me and the only thing the school did about the bullying was paint over the graffiti in the bathroom and make me go to counseling and yet none of my bullies were reprimanded. Honestly, John Adams doesn't seem to have gotten any better and I commend you on getting your son out of there when you did.

JBrownstein writes:

I appreciate the writer's struggle with this issue, but I think she approached the issue the wrong way. Both teachers and the media these kids consume now adays are very progressive on these issues and do a great job at teaching tolerance. So, if these kids are coming to school with homophobic attitudes, it's coming from their home. While you may think of Santa Monica is a cheerful bubbled filled exclusively with people with progressive liberal values, that's not the case. About 1/3rd of the student in Santa Monica public schools are the first generation children of immigrants. You have to remember that our progressive attitudes about sexuality are not the norm in the rest of the world. 90% of people are born into cultures that are virulently homophobic and these beliefs don't necessarily disappear because people cross an imaginary line in the ground. I think you needed to directly, or through the school, reach out to these parents to show them how to make sure their kids are tolerant.

LAismyhome writes:

I'm really sorry for your son and for you as a mom. What an awful thing to endure. However, it's a bit naive to think that Santa Monica is this idyllic, sleepy little progressive beach town where kids are always nice to each other and hold hands singing kumbaya. It always blows me away when parents move heaven and earth to send their kids to the so-called good schools outside of LAUSD and then encounter the same stuff everyone else has to endure. Bullying is an unfortunate part of life. I took it and it made me stronger and more accepting of myself in the long run. If your kid is thinking about suicide, I'd be more concerned with getting him screened for depression than anything else. Lastly, Arizona is NOT a more progressive place than California. It's one of the most conservative states in this country; they were THE SECOND to LAST STATE in the Union to recognize MLK Day as a holiday- and that was after being shamed into doing so in 1992. Best of luck to you anyhow.

30yearsSM writes:

JAMS (John Adams Middle School) is a very dangerous school. I am a long time resident. One of my kids, a very happy straight A student, became suicidal there. Thank God we moved her. The counsellors were bizarre. One counselor said ....Many high functioning children don't do well here... Is just one quote. Further I have known another 11 kids well who attended. The bullying is unbelievable and very dangerous. Multiple kids have ended up in psychiatric care or involved with the police. And the instructors...The curricula is bizarre, managing to be meticulous, arbitrary, and mechanical. There are lights in the darkness, but I seriously worry that JAMS will eventually experience a catastrophic event. I think it's a large school, like SAMO, but really no one in the administration seems to care that they have a Seriously Toxic Environment. If your kid, or hundreds of kids, are miserable and under performing, that seems just fine with them. They should break that school up..


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