GLBT oriented high school proposed for CPS

Wed. October 15, 2008 12:00 AM by Gay Chicago Magazine

Chicago, IL - Supporters of a proposed public high school geared to the needs of GLBT students spoke enthusiastically about the plan at a hearing held by Chicago Public Schools Oct. 8 at the Center on Halsted.

"It will literally save lives," said DePaul University Professor Beth Kelly. "It's a chance for Chicago to take the lead in the United States. This is our moment and the City of Chicago should seize it."

About 50 people attended the hearing, a smaller crowd than the 200 that had attended an earlier hearing. But support for the proposal was strong.

"It's going to help our young people understand that they are an important part of the community," said Ill. state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

Earlier in the day, CPS CEO Arne Duncan held a press conference to announce that he is recommending that the Chicago Board of Education give final approval to the school when it meets Oct. 22. Duncan also recommended approval of 17 other proposed schools, saying they would give parents and students more community-oriented options.

GLBT students face harassment and discrimination in most schools, studies have found. A nationwide survey of more than 6,000 students released Oct. 8 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 86 percent of GLBT students in high schools and middle schools in the United States faced some sort of harassment in the 2007 school year. Six out of 10 GLBT students said they felt unsafe in their schools and 22 percent said they had been physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.

Gay CPS teacher Brad Rossi said GLBT students in Chicago face similar hostility in their schools.

"For those who believe that times have changed and schools are safer, you are wrong," Rossi said.

Scott Jaburek, a gay high school student in Chicago, said GLBT youths deserve a learning environment where they can feel safe.

"The fact is that going to a school where you are judged by your academic performance instead of your sexual orientation is not a special privilege," Jaburek said.

The GLBT-oriented school, currently dubbed the School for Social Justice Pride Campus, would have a capacity of 600 students. Backers say they hope the school can begin accepting students in 2010. The location of the campus has not been determined, though many supporters have argued for a central location easily accessible by public transportation. The school would not be limited to GLBT students and Duncan said he expects the student body to be "majority straight."

Some speakers addressed concerns that the school would lessen the impetus for CPS administrators to improve the climate for GLBT students at other schools. One speaker said, though, that the eagerness of GLBT students to transfer to the Pride Campus would underscore issues that need to be addressed in the schools they want to leave.

"The fact that those schools would have to shift students to this school is really going to reveal deficiencies in those schools," said Lambda Legal attorney Jim Madigan. "The success of this school would serve as a model."

GLBT community activist Renae Ogletree, a CPS administrator who's been instrumental in planning the new school, said CPS would be able to "establish best practices" for creating positive learning environments for GLBT students at the Pride Campus. Those practices, Ogletree said, could then be duplicated in other CPS schools.

"We've got an opportunity to not only change the lives of young people but also to change education," she said.

Written by: Gary Barlow
Article provided in partnership with Gay Chicago Magazine.