The personal testimonies posted anonymously on the Dear Plano ISD Facebook page are all different. They come from different schools, and students from many different years. But they follow common threads, and together, they tell a singular story.
“I looked at my teacher who witnessed the whole thing but when I did look at her, she looked back down at her work like it never happened,” one reads.
“School instantly became a source of fear for me,” another student writes. “Since then, I pretty much have worn baggy clothes to class every day.”
“He would threaten that if I mentioned anything to anyone, he would hurt me,” another says.
Each note is signed the same way: “Sincerely, a student,” followed by the school they attended.
Dear Plano ISD is a Facebook page run by five recent graduates of Plano schools. The page shares stories of abuse, harassment, and bullying in PISD schools.
“People are shocked by what happened to them,” one of the page administrators, a young woman, explained on the phone. “They don’t always know how to react and are sometimes scared to stand up for themselves. Then they feel if they say something, they’ll be hit with, ‘It’s just a joke,’ or “Boys will be boys.’”
The group’s founders prefer to remain anonymous, to better represent the entirety of the PISD alumnae community. The member I spoke to asked to be referred to simply as an administrator.
“I personally had a reputation as a social justice warrior if that’s what you want to call it,” she said. “I’m a person of color, I saw things happening around me. What sucked was when I tried to stand up as me, not anonymously, I was ignored. I got painted a little crazy, so [my complaints] were dismissed when it came out of my mouth.”
That experience motivated Dear Plano ISD’s commitment to remaining anonymous. “We don’t want our identities to overshadow the integrity of the page,” the admin said.
She recalls that middle school was particularly vicious. “You’d have one guy who harassed multiple girls, and got away with it,” she explained. “It’s terrible to think about. They’re going to nice colleges, they have all these scholarships, and the people they hurt were left behind.”
She, personally, had a fairly positive experience. “I was conscious about how people treated me, I would call them out. I guarded myself,” she says. But not everyone knows how to protect themselves. Furthermore, students shouldn’t have to. School should be a safe place.
How Dear Plano ISD Started
“I wasn’t the one who started Dear Plano ISD,” the admin said. She came on a day later.
As written in their first post, “If we want to see change for the next generation of Plano ISD students, we cannot ignore the behavior that we know is wrong.” Within its first day, the page blew up, and the group of five students solidified. The page, the admin said, was the best thing to come out of her year.
Dear Plano ISD runs simply. Any past or current PISD student can submit stories of their experiences. The admin says that it’s a job to scrub through it, and weed out joke submissions. “We get song lyrics, fanfiction—so much ‘Vampire Diaries’ fanfiction,” she adds incredulously. “Someone really enjoys doing that.”
They also have a list of demands for PISD, including implementing more comprehensive education on subjects like harassment and sexual assault, and to start that education at a younger age. Additionally, they want the district to allocate time to self-defense classes for all students. “Our mission is really just to bring awareness to the problems, and we want to work with the district to see what they can do.”
When they first started posting nine months ago, Dear Plano ISD started a stir. “People couldn’t stop talking about it, about if the stories were true, or if we were making it up for attention. We didn’t want that to be a problem. Especially at the beginning,” she said.
Dear Plano ISD keeps track of patterns in their submissions. They see a lot of systemic harassment. The admin reported teachers who make racist jokes about Middle Eastern students being terrorists, abusive relationships between students, and assault.
Along with posting anonymous stories, the group also advocates in cases of students who make their names and stories known. For example, they spread the word about a lawsuit against PISD, brought by the family of an elementary school student, which alleges that the district “failed to protect” a young girl from “repeated sexual abuse by other students over the course of three academic years.”
Dear Plano ISD’s content is often heavy. The administrator said that the five of them have had to stick together and support each other. Sometimes, when the emotional weight becomes too great, a member will take a break from the page. Dear Plano ISD isn’t the only group of its kind. There is a similar student-led social media movement in Southlake, Texas.
But over the past two weeks, the story of a young Black middle schooler, SeMarion Humphrey, has received national attention. Like the admins of Dear Plano ISD, SeMarion comes from a Plano school.
In early March, SeMarion’s mother posted pictures and videos on Facebook that showed her other middle schoolers harassing her son, calling him racial slurs, even making him drink their urine. He had been bullied by the same group for months, and it was getting worse. The footage of SeMarion’s experience sparked outrage and calls for PISD to expel the students responsible, other members of his football team.
“We want to make sure no student has to go through what [SeMarion] did,” the administrator of Dear Plano ISD said. Often kids who go through harassment, abuse, and bullying aren’t willing to come forward. They’re afraid of repercussions, or afraid they won’t be believed. “We hope the school realizes [SeMarion] wasn’t a one-off case. SeMarion has been very brave, standing up for himself, and putting his face and his name forward.”
Dear Plano ISD has received over 1,000 stories from people who couldn’t.
As calls for #JusticeForSeMarion spread across social media, Dear Plano ISD’s initial response was anger. “We went into fight mode very quickly,” the admin said. In addition, their visibility skyrocketed. According to Facebook’s Insights, their account climbed to a shocking 147,000% the week SeMarion’s story went viral.
As a result, Dear Plano ISD is receiving some of the most attention since their launch over the summer. “One party came after us for not posting about it fast enough. Then a party got mad at us for talking about it and publicizing it,” she says. “People are watching us with a close eye.”
SeMarion’s case is particularly heartbreaking. It also exemplifies all the issues Dear Plano ISD has observed, and proves that a school district might have an excellent anti-bullying or harassment policy—but that isn’t always enough. All too often, allegations of abuse and bullying don’t receive proper attention. If that happens, it’s typically because someone didn’t follow policy correctly. It’s what SeMarion’s lawyer, Kim Cole, has referred to a “breakdown” in the system.
“If someone comes in, and says this person has done something terrible, the first thing a school administrator does is try to diffuse the situation so both students walk away unharmed. If the administration can’t prove it happened, they’re in a very tough spot,” the Dear Plano ISD admin explains. They’ve heard countless stories like this.
All too often, the easiest route—with the least paperwork—is to dismiss the problem, rather than deal with it, despite PISD’s zero tolerance policy.
“It’s difficult to think about SeMarion’s case,” the Dear Plano ISD admin says. “It makes me sick to think about how people would have reacted if the incidents weren’t on video.”
But SeMarion’s mother shouldn’t have had to post a video of her son’s attackers online in order to get people to care, Dear Plano ISD says. SeMarion told a coach. His mother went to the school and the district. They did all the right things. “The family didn’t want to make a huge deal; they wanted it resolved quickly and quietly. It frustrates me to think social media was their last resort.”
When the victims of harassment and bullying speak about their private hurts, they want someone to listen. Dear Plano ISD serves as a platform where any student can speak, and be heard.
“We want to make Plano safer for students that come after,” she said. “People shouldn’t go unheard.”