The family is represented by Rep. John Ragan in the Tennessee House. Rep. Ragan introduced the "Classroom Protection Act" which was the formal name of the bill more popularly known in the news as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The Neergaard family were enraged to hear that StudentsFirst had endorsed Ragan as a Reformer of the Year, given his education bill would further endanger Marcel.
They posted a petition, and since Saturday, over 55,000 people had signed to a call for StudentsFirst to rescind their award and task themselves to endorsing and working to pass anti-bullying legislation.
Today, StudentsFirst posted "StudentsFirst Stands With Marcel."
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.It is an unqualified statement of contrition and exactly what the Neergaards and everyone who answered the petition was calling on StudentsFirst to do.
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 Ragan and rescinded the recognition.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.
The Neergaards describe themselves as speechless and so proud of their son. Marcell says:
"I had my petition up for less than a week, and it actually worked. I want to make sure to thank all the people who signed my petition, because without them, it would not have been possible."
Marcel wants people to know, when he pressed the "Victory!" button on the MoveOn petition form, he let his big brother press it on top of him, because he asked to.
Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project says:
"We'll continue to work with the legislature impressing upon them the urgent need to pass the Dignity for all Students Act. This could be a significant turning point for us in the Legislature. I hopeful it will be."The fight is far from over. Yesterday, Senate Democrats announced that the Student Non-Discrimination Act would be included as part of the larger education bill. This is a major victory for safe schools advocates. It will affirm the rights of students to be included in school activities (like proms) regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity (as well as a wide variety of other attributes). It will face serious opposition from conservatives, and we'll have to stand guard to see it isn't stripped out. We welcome StudentsFirst's help in that battle.
But that's for later. Today, I'll be happy for this unqualified win say sincerely and graciously, thank you StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee.
And thanks to all the Kossacks who helped too!
The video that went viral.
Update: Via MoveOn who did truly excellent work on this campaign, the Neergaard family has released this statement:
I thank all fifty-three thousond of you for helping me change StudentsFirst's mind on all of this. Michelle Rhee anonced that "I stand with Marcel" and that "Marcel has a lot of courage." She has recinded her award, and announced that she would support a number of anti bullying legislasion. I owe this victory to you. It took every and each one of your signatures to get to this point. You got me from a nobody to being on Facebook, Huffingtonpost, Youtube, Fifty Thousand signatures on a petition, an blogs everywere. Thank you, all of you.
Thank you so much from all the Neergaards, especially Marcel