LGBTQA school meeting covers many issues

Wed. September 24, 2008 12:00 AM by Windy City Media Group

Chicago, IL - Although many people had specific questions about the proposed LGBTQA Chicago public high school at a recent community forum, most present appeared to support the idea of such a school.

On Sept. 18, Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) Office of New Schools held a community forum at the Center on Halsted regarding the proposed Social Justice High School—Pride Campus, a public school for LGBTQA students. Roughly 150 people, including politicians, local LGBT activists, teachers and students were present. There, CPS officials, as well as the proposed LGBTQA high school's design team, discussed the process, presented details and answered questions.

The Pride Campus, if approved, would open in the fall of 2010. A location has not been chosen. The school would, in many ways, replicate the successful components of the Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice, which was born out of a community hunger strike.

Like the School for Social Justice, the Pride Campus would implement college preparatory curriculum. The overall goal is to provide LGBTQA students a safe, affirming and supportive environment, which would also serve as a national model for educating LGBTQA youth and help address systemic change within the CPS system. Also, the Pride Campus would address other important issues that impact the LGBTQA youth population, such as homelessness.

"Inherent in the base of what we are creating is a space that is safe," said Renae Ogletree, CPS director of student development and a member of the Pride Campus design team.

During the community forum, the Pride Campus' design team said they envision Pride Campus being small in size, and hopefully located in a safe neighborhood near public transportation, so students from all over the city could have equal access.

The School for Social Justice is in its third year, and has seen much success. For example, 75 percent of its students are on track to graduate, and one-third of current juniors received a 19 or higher on the ACT.

According to assistant principal Chad Weiden, 90 percent of their seniors will attend college. He said that Pride Campus would be a college prep option for "overlooked" students.

During the forum, the design team tried to strike down misconceptions about the proposed school, such as it is only a school for LGBT students. The school, they stressed, if for everyone.

Two Social Justice High Schools students—one junior and one senior who identified as allies—said that if given the chance, they would attend the Pride Campus.

"I would want that opportunity for myself and for my kids and grandchildren," one student told the crowd. "I don't think anyone here would want to take away the opportunity to be successful."

Social Justice High School principal Rito Martinez said that the importance is "looking at students not as black or brown, gay or straight, but beautiful human beings who deserve a quality education."

The proposed school's design team also stressed that data is out there to support the need for an LGBTQA high school. The reality is that many LGBTQ students are bullied and harassed in Illinois schools.

In Illinois, 35 percent of students report that sexual orientation is the reason students are bullied or harassed, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Additionally, three-quarters of Illinois students report hearing homophobic slurs such as "faggot," and 83 percent report hearing remarks such as "that's so gay," in school. LGBTQ students are more likely to skip school, suffer from depression, attempt suicide and report being in a physical fight, as well.

Weiden, who is openly gay, shared his experiences as a gay student. He recalled being beat up and harassed. "I had to eat lunch in the bathroom," he said. "I needed the Pride Campus."

The Office of New Schools is charged with carrying out CPS' Renaissance 2010 initiative, which was designed to create 100 new, high-quality schools in the city. So far, 75 schools have been created. In 2008, 50 design teams proposed new schools, including the Pride Campus.

Next, CPS CEO Arne Duncan will review the school plans. On Oct. 1, he will announce his selection. During the week of Oct. 6, a public hearing will be held. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the new schools during an Oct. 22 board meeting.

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Written by: Amy Wooten
Article provided in partnership with Windy City Media Group.