General Articles, State

Bullying in Ohio Public Schools: Local Realities, Local Responses


Ohio's public school districts have made strides to address bullying with education and policy measures – consistent with other states across the nation. A recent profile of a lesbian student in Ravenna illustrates how LGBTQ youth often must cope with hostile school environments: Maddie Finn, age 18, simply focuses on getting her diploma and leaving for college because, "once you graduate … you're probably never going to see those people again. When you tune that stuff out, it makes a world of difference."[1]

Maddie's example is not unusual for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Unless states and local school districts move affirmatively to name sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying initiatives, many youth will see ‘tuning out' verbal and physical harassment as their only recourse.

Fortunately, Cincinnati public schools have seized an opportunity to make change by facilitating their high school students' access to the recent documentary Bully. The district has coordinated free screenings with area theaters for its roughly 9,000 high schoolers. The film portrays five youth over the course of a year as they endure abuse from their peers and indifference from adults.[2]

District superintendent Mary Ronan issued a statement affirming the film's power "to make a real difference by engaging our community at all levels."[3] In addition, the district has teamed with the local police department to host the city's first annual ‘Step Up and Stop It Anti-Bullying Art and Creative Writing Contest.' A video highlighting the contest was posted to the school district's ‘I am CPS' web site.[4]

Although the film screening and art contest have potential to change norms around sexuality-related bullying behaviors in Cincinnati schools, the question remains to what degree school stakeholders will follow-up with sustainable advances in policy and curriculum. For example, the art contest video never names the specific causes of bullying behaviors, which so often occur because the target is (or is perceived to be) a sexual minority: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. The arrival of the new National Sexuality Education Standards has prompted many school districts to re-visit their current sexuality education policies and practices. Ohio's Columbus Dispatch noted in January 2012 that "Ohio doesn't plan to follow the recommendations" in terms of state-level action; yet some local Ohio districts are ahead of the state government in terms of readiness to teach about sexuality, including sexuality-related bullying. To quote Eydie Schilling, executive director of learning and teaching for the Dublin City Schools, "If Ohio would ever adopt [standards], we would immediately put them into effect."[5]

Click here to view all May 2012 Community Action Updates

1 Matthew Lewison, "Ohio Schools Fight Against Bullies,", 10 April 2012, accessed 17 April 2012, .
2 "Ohio School District Has Teens Watch 'Bully' Film,, 14 May 2012, accessed 17 May 2012,
3 Lisa Cornwell. "Thousands of Cincinnati Students to See ‘Bully; Movie in Project to Make Schools Safer,", 14 May 2012, accessed 18 May 2012,–Bullying-Cincinnati-Schools/.
4 Cincinnati Public Schools I Am CPS web site, accessed 18 May 2012,
5 Pat Holmes, "Ohio Still Leaves Sexual Education to Each District, Columbus Dispatch online, 29 January 2012, accessed 17 May 2012,