BULLYING PREVENTION

Most Colorado school districts have updated their anti-bullying policies for LGBT students. Here’s why some have not.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students from Aurora's Rangeview High School ate lunch during a break at a weekend gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight youth. The annual event hosted by LGBT advocacy organization One Colorado focused on student leadership.

While many Colorado school districts have adopted explicit policies against bullying of gay and transgender students, some say singling out populations is not necessary to create a safe environment for marginalized students.

According to a report released Wednesday by One Colorado, the state’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, 82 percent of school districts statewide have revised their anti-bullying policies since 2011. That’s up from 37 percent in 2012, when the organization first examined school district policies.

The revisions followed the 2011 passage of a state law that prohibits bullying on the basis of a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also included a program that provided funding to help schools update their policies.

Colorado’s legislation was considered a landmark at the time. Meanwhile, protections for LGBT students are coming into new national focus after President Donald Trump rescinded guidance on how schools should accommodate the needs of transgender students.  

Daniel Ramos, One Colorado’s executive director, said the organization worked with many school districts after the bill passed in 2011 to develop the proper language for updating policies.

One Colorado has received some pushback, however, from districts that find redrafting their guidelines unnecessary, he said.

“Some schools don’t believe that they have LGBTQ youth or LGBTQ people in their school districts,” Ramos said. “Regardless of whether you have LGBTQ people or LGBTQ families… having bullying policies that reflect actual or perceived identity is important in that it protects all students.”

Three school districts in the Denver area — Westminster, Aurora and Adams 14 — are listed as still not having updated their anti-bullying policies to comply with the law. 

Most of the other Colorado school districts that have not updated their policies are small and rural.

The Westminster school board earlier this year passed a resolution stating that the district does not tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination, including discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.

However, Ramos said the resolution doesn’t cut it. He said One Colorado was looking for an explicit anti-bullying policy.

Aurora includes language in its nondiscrimination policy that prohibits targeting students for a number of reasons, including sexual orientation — but does not enumerate that in its anti-bullying guidelines.

Ramos said it is important for districts to be explicit in prohibiting harassment based on specific aspects of a student’s identity in both the anti-bullying and nondiscrimination policies.

According to a report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, policies that explicitly protect LGBT students are more effective than those that do not.

“Just a general anti-bullying policy, one that says bullying is prohibited but doesn’t list any of the characteristics, is as effective as having no policy at all,” Ramos said.

Adams 14 also has policies that do not specifically list protected identities, said Kim Cini, the district’s assistant director for student services.

She said Adams 14’s school board is considering updates to all district policies, but the general language in the anti-bullying and nondiscrimination guidelines is meant to encompass all Adams 14 students.

The Commerce City school district also has rolled out new curriculum this year, aimed at increasing instruction based around practicing empathy for students with different identities and backgrounds, she said.

“Bullying applies to all people, whether we’re explicitly identifying that population or not,” Cini said. “I think we’re going to get a lot further (with social-emotional learning) than talking about what a policy is.”

Ramos said updating policy can be especially impactful for students in predominately Latino districts such as Adams 14.

“I myself, as a gay Latino male, know that I don’t just show up in public as either gay or as Latino or as male — I show up as all those things and then some,” he said. “For students to feel like they can bring their whole selves to school and talk about the experiences that they have as people of color, as LGBTQ folks, as male or female, that’s what we want young people to feel safe enough to able to bring to the classroom.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that the Douglas County School District was in the process of updating its policies. The school board has since completed that process, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.