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August 14, 2009

 

Cleveland schools have pioneering LGBT program

Cleveland--The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is “at the forefront in addressing the needs of [the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning] population,” said Jeff Poirier of the American Institutes for Research.

According to director of health and support services David Harrison, LGBT and questioning students and employees are beneficiaries of a program begun last year as a response to a shooting two years ago at the district’s Success Tech Academy. In October 2007, 14-year-old suspended student Asa Coon shot two students and two teachers before killing himself.

The program is called Human Ware, a project of AIR. It is being instituted district wide, and it has an LGBTQ component.

The entire program has ten strategies. The LGBTQ initiative falls under school climate; the goal being to make all schools safer.

The strategies involve putting student support teams in all buildings to improve the conditions for learning, and create better social and emotional environments.

An LGBTQ work group of about 20 members has been formed. Membership includes Cleveland GLSEN president Gene Ashley, LGBT Center program director Mika Major, teachers, nurses and principals. Equality Ohio is also a participant.

The LGBTQ work group will make recommendations in four areas: a reduction of harassment and bullying incidents by 10 percent annually, training health and social service personnel on LGBTQ competency, overall injury and violence reduction, and promoting responsible sexual behavior.

The work group will complete its recommendations in October or November.

GLSEN, however, will then take on a larger role with the district, as Gay Straight Alliances are set up at all the district’s high schools.

Currently, John Marshall High School has the only GSA in the district, though it is the largest one in Ohio.

Harrison said that immediately, GLSEN will be helping the district collect data to see if the GSA programs are improving academic improvement among participants.

“If we do, it will validate what’s going on,” said Harrison, “that there has been improvement in the overall environment.”

Harrison believes that GSAs improve attendance and morale of participants. The program will give the district the chance to find out how much.

“We know that LGBT kids get bullied more,” Harrison said.

Also monitored will be the number of harassment investigations going through the Title IX office.

Harrison said that the Human Ware program involves all students, staff and faculty, including security personnel who will also be trained in LGBTQ competency.

This year, Harrison said, all employees will be trained, and new people will be trained every year after that.

The anti-bullying law passed by the Ohio general assembly in 2006 does not include LGBTQ students or require that school districts protect LGBTQ students from harassment or bullying.

School districts are free to set their own policies and programs.

Currently, very few Ohio high schools have gay-straight alliances.

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