For more than two years, Gordon Clay of Brookings has been trying to increase awareness of the bullying that takes place in local schools and around town.
And Monday night, he won another battle when the Brookings City Council agreed to let him post anti-bullying signs in four locations throughout town — in time for National Bully Prevention Month.
“We do a lot at the school,” Clay told councilors. “But the one weakness we have is reaching out of the school. That’s difficult.”
The signs will feature the international “anti” circle over the word “Bully.”
The signs will be placed by the restrooms at Bud Cross Park, the entrance to KidTown, at the gate to Easy Manor Park and at the municipal swimming pool.
“Bullying goes on everywhere,” said City Parks and Recreation Supervisor Tony Baron. “Anywhere kids congregate.”
City Mayor Ron Hedenskog said he wasn’t initially in favor of installing the signs — saying the city could become littered with signs if they posted something for every societal issue — changed his mind after Clay listed some statistics.
“I’m willing to try, at these four locations,” he said. “And hopefully the bullies won’t tear the signs down.”
Clay’s been so insistent about protecting local kids — from bullying, assault and other behaviors — because he’s been there himself.
“I toughed it out,” he said. “And I’ve learned from a lot of abuse information that children who have been abused often become really adamant about protecting others. A lot of people — a lot of Special Forces, a lot of cops — they don’t want it to happen to anybody else.”
Despite issues currently being addressed at the high school, Clay said his mission has nothing to do with the teachers or administration.
“It’s the kids,” he said. “I don’t feel they’re being protected.”
He cites the March 2012 suicide of Dorothy Shull, who would have graduated Brookings-Harbor High School in June had she not committed suicide.
“I have little doubt a part of (the reasons for her death) was bullying,” Clay said.
Another local death, of a 19-year-old youth, is believed by some to have been related to his friendship with a boy who is gay, Clay said.
Those two issues — sexual identity and who your friends are — play out in an annual state survey conducted among sixth- eighth- and 11th-graders every spring, Clay told the council.
“In the middle school, 18 percent of the kids said that in the last 30 days they’d been harassed (for their sexuality),” he said. “Unless this is a really unusual community, we know that only 3 or 4 percent of them might be gay. So another 15 percent are being called ‘faggot’ or ‘queer’ and they’re not gay.
“There’s a huge amount of homophobia here, Clay added. “Of the six major areas of harassment (in the study), the gay thing is number three. The other two are your friends and your appearance.”
The study, available online at public.health.oregon.gov under Surveys/OregonHealthyTeens, is school-specific, as well.
In 2012, the study indicated that 56 percent of sixth-graders, 60 percent of eighth-graders and 49 percent of 11th graders said they’d been harassed — for their weight, physical characteristics, acne, friends, perceived sexual orientation — while on school property in Brookings.
That same study indicated that, in the same grade levels, 32 percent, 23 percent and 13 percent of students said they’d witnessed a fight. And 17 percent, 13 percent and 12 percent of those respective grade groups had been threatened with a weapon at school.
Those figures might seem illogical, but Clay said as children age, they become more civil and less likely to engage in undesirable behavior.