Phoenix’s Story: Do students have a right to a safe learning environment?

Bullying – repeated threats, intimidation, or assaults  – that is intended to hurt someone because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — is a civil rights issue.


Federal guidelines state that repeated bullying affects the learning goals of educational environments, and threatens a student’s right to attend classes in schools that are safe. If school officials fail to properly deal with bullying, they risk receiving a citation that could lead to a cut in their federal educational funding.


Phoenix Williams is a student who was bullied by two students on the bus and who videotaped them calling him the n-word.
Like many others who are bullied, he stayed home from school and did not return until he felt safe. Meanwhile, his family, classmates, school officials, and community members all got involved.

  • Is bullying just a normal rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up?
  • Have you ever experienced or observed bullying in your school? Can you give an example?
  • How did Phoenix respond?  What did he do?  Do you agree with his decision to stay home from school?
  • What was done by his family, other students, school officials, and community members?
  • If you were the victim of bullying, how would you respond?
  • Are there bullies in your school?  Should the school respond and, if so, how?
  • Do students have a right to feel safe in school and, if so, how?
Michigan Civil Rights Commission Resolution

“Michigan’s students should be educated on their social identity and that of others to effectively enable them to replace prejudice, bias, and stereotypes with acceptance, understanding and unity.”

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 29, The aims of education: The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.


Coming Soon: Explore educational resources, curricular and course materials, learning activities, and lesson plans related to the topics in this story.