Written by Michelle Rhee on June 5, 2013

StudentsFirst Stands with Marcel

Marcel Neergaard is not alone. He and his family decided they would home-school this year, afraid of what would happen to the 11-year-old boy if he continued to be bullied at school for being openly gay. He's a brave boy and is showing tremendous courage by sharing his story.

There are students and families both in his state, Tennessee, and across the country in similar situations, concerned about whether their kids' schools are safe environments. I have two daughters of my own and worry every day about whether they are learning in a nurturing and secure environment.

Protecting our children is a top priority. Without safe learning environments, children can not realize their full potential. At StudentsFirst we believe that strongly, which is why, today, we stand with Marcel in support of the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act and will support similar measures in our active states. We encourage legislators across the country to support these measures to protect kids from bullying and discrimination as well.

We also want to send a message to students like Marcel across the country about the standards we set as an education advocacy organization.

Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a "Reformer of the Year" by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 -- which would have cultivated a culture of bullying -- does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition.

Simply put, we must hold our "Reformers of the Year" to a higher standard. So let me be very clear -- policies that are intended to single out any student based on their sexual orientation and treat them differently are wrong.

Policies, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was proposed in Tennessee, have nothing to do with improving our schools. Limiting the ability of educators, health and mental health professionals, or any adults dealing with students to care for and mentor children does nothing to ensure that schools are safe spaces in which to learn and grow.

StudentsFirst is a single-issue organization. That means we focus on improving education for kids, and nothing else. We're proud to have worked with legislators on both sides of the political spectrum and to have found common ground supporting meaningful reform policies. This oftentimes means we build relationships with and support legislators whom we fundamentally disagree with on other issues -- even sometimes on issues within the education policy arena.

As StudentsFirst continues our fight to ensure every child is given the best possible opportunity to succeed in school, we know it is also important to help educate lawmakers and our members about the importance of promoting safe school environments for our students.

Especially for kids like Marcel.