DCPS Committee to Change School Culture for LGBTQ Students
Administrators are at the beginning of a long-term initiative to bring about more awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community in area schools.
DCPS is winning praise for recent steps it has taken to change the school environment for LGBTQ students, according to a recent piece in the Washington Blade, writes Bill Turque at the Washington Post.
DC Public Schools has been meeting and consulting regularly with parents, social workers, teachers, openly gay students as well as organizations like SMYAL and The Trevor Project, writes Steve Fox in the Washington Blade article.
“These individuals and groups formed a steering committee to put together a road map for how the District can be more proactive in putting an end to bullying and bringing about more awareness of the presence of LGBT students.”
What they have come up with is being referred to as “The LGBTQ Plan.”
Andrew Barnett, executive director of SMYAL (Sexual Minority Assistance League) commended the Office of Youth Engagement and health and wellness chief Diana Bruce for forming a LGBTQ steering committee and reaching out to students, family and staff in a series of listening sessions, writes Turque.
The committee has been discussing steps to change the culture in D.C. schools, including more training for teachers and administrators and establishment of an LGBTQ School Liaison Program The school system has also started DCPS LGBTQ Facebook page, writes Turque.
“The Office of Youth Engagement at DCPS is showing great leadership in their work to make the system safer and more affirming for its LGBTQ students and other constituents, and SMYAL has appreciated being a part of the effort,” Barnett told the Blade.
“We’ve also been very impressed by the way in which Diana Bruce and her team have engaged so many different important stakeholders throughout the process.”
The 2007 DC Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) shows that 7.1 percent of high school males and 9.9 percent of high school females (charter and DCPS) self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. About a third of that population reported being bullied at least once on school property the previous year, writes Turque.
Minutes of the listening sessions and steering committee meetings, posted on the DCPS site, show that the school system has a long way to go. In one meeting, parents told school officials that teachers and principals don’t always know how to respond to LGBTQ concerns, including homophobic comments by students or other staff. Teachers often encourage traditional gender roles (ie. pink is for girls; boys are supposed to toughen up). One attendee said a teacher told a preschool girl that “two girls can’t get married — that would be silly.”
Fear, intimidation and harassment led to truancy, poor grades and depression, writes Chancellor Kaya Henderson at the Metro Weekly.
“Educators can’t teach and students can’t learn in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Schools can’t succeed and communities can’t thrive where harassment threatens the physical and emotional well-being of our family. The plan focuses on outreach, engagement and training; resources and supports; and heightened awareness to create an environment where all students, families, school staff and administrators can feel safe and welcome.”
Henderson claims that this is a positive step in the right direction, but she notes that it will take a broader commitment from the entire community to move this school district closer “to what we all deserve”.
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