Monday, November 9, 2015

We Have to Give Them Hope – and Real Change

LGBTQ youth who began high school in the San Diego Unified School District back in 2010 were hopeful.

The school board and superintendent had just agreed to a policy prohibiting bullying, harassment and intimidation, a policy that – due to a great deal of work
included LGBTQ students. SDUSD is the second largest school district in the state, so the victory was an important one.

The district formed a Safe Schools Task Force that included educators, community members and other school personnel – all focused on implementation of real changes in the reporting and addressing of bullying/harassment incidents. These changes would ensure that district educators, staff and administrators would have the training they needed to create welcome and safe environments for LGBTQ students. It would also help to ensure that the curriculum was changed to include representation of LGBTQ lives and histories.

But all that was five years ago. Those youth who began high school back then have already graduated or left school without ever seeing the real changes they hoped for.
While the world seemed to change greatly for LGBTQ adults, for our youth, precious little has changed in the environment in which they spend seven to nine hours a day.

Five years. During that time, there have been many meetings, many discussions of plans, many expressions of good will and intentions. There have been changes in superintendents, changes in school board members, changes in school personnel. Despite the passage of the 2011 FAIR Act in California, students still have few, if any, opportunities to learn about the lives and histories of LGBT figures or heroes. Their culture and their lives remain invisible.

Five years. After four years, an actual anti-harassment policy was finalized. But real-world enforcement and application of that policy is hardly evident. Too little has actually changed in the experiences of our youth in schools – experiences we know are too often painful and damaging.

After five years, youth – and their parents – remain unable to easily file complaints. Educators continue to be untrained and without access to information that can make them a part of the solution (with the exception of those who have actively sought it out, which is not nearly enough). Too many of our youth continue to miss days of school because they can’t face the environment. Continue to drop out prematurely. Continue to underachieve because they are forced to endure an environment that feels hostile and unsafe.

Five years. That is, quite simply, too long to wait for basic dignity and compliance. The conditions in our schools for LGBTQ youth were unacceptable before the policy changes were agreed to. We can’t wait anymore. The planning, talking and meeting was important, but it’s not enough. It’s time for action.

In May of this year, the San Diego LGBT Community Leadership Council sent the superintendent a letter on behalf of the more than 40 LGBTQ and allied organizations indicating that it was critical that we see progress on the seven enumerated priority items (see below). To date, some have been or are in the process of implementation – the three most important have not yet even begun.

Reporting. Training. Inclusive curriculum. Our youth can’t wait five more years.

May 14, 2015

1. Begin and continue comprehensive training for all staff, educators and administrators on LGBTQ issues, including the disparities created in educational environments (drop-out, achievement gaps) and challenges to student safety posed by harassment, bullying and intimidation.   

2. Immediately design and implement real-time electronic reporting of discrimination, harassment, bullying and safety concerns that is easily accessible and promoted widely throughout the schools/classrooms. This reporting should include options for text/e-mail/phone responses and be available to both students and parents. 

3. Begin to implement LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in all grades, consistent with the FAIR Act requirements. 

4. Establish and fund at least one dedicated senior staff position to assist in training and implementation of LGBTQ initiatives. This staff member would be at a senior level, would be LGBTQ competent and experienced in training educators/administrators regarding LGBTQ issues.
5. Create and disseminate a simple procedure protocol for all staff and educators to use when a harassment/bullying incident occurs or has been reported. 

6. Establish and implement a standardized school climate survey administered to students annually to determine baseline experiences and safety. 

7. Using the survey described above, establish annual progress goals for safety and improvement over baseline for each school.  

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