Plans for 'pride' school stalled

November 19, 2008 3:33:39 PM PST
A proposal to open a public school for gay and lesbian students in Chicago has been put on hold.There were indications Wednesday night that the plan could be re-submitted at a later date.

The Chicago School Board heard several public comments Wednesday in favor of such a school. But those who came up with the idea pulled the plan because they feared the mission of the school was being diluted.

The first draft of the proposal called for the school to serve students struggling with mistreatment as a result of their sexuality. Then, it was changed to be a school for anyone who is routinely bullied.

Wednesday, those who proposed the school essentially said do it their way, or don't do it at all.

There are predominately gay neighborhoods in the Chicago area, but plans for a school to serve gay, lesbian and bisexual students specifically are being on put hold.

Public comments at Wednesday's school board meeting turned testy.

"This is not going to happen, and it's not going to happen because the political will is not there!" said one man who attended.

Among those testifying at the meeting was Sam Finkelstein, who said he dropped out of an intolerant California high school.

"Being physically assaulted and being in an environment where people weren't held accountable because it happened to those who were different," Finkelstein said.

A national study last year found that 60 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered students felt unsafe at school, and 33 percent skipped a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe, compared to 4.5 percent of straight students.

Designers of the new Social Justice Solidarity School, as it was to be called, had hoped it would be home to 600 students, only half gay. Other students could opt in.

However, after Mayor Daley expressed lukewarm support, the plan got watered down, and references to sexuality were dropped. Some wanted the school to be for any teen who feels bullied.

David Stovall and his team proposed the new school, and they felt that would miss the point.

"We wanted a space where young folks felt un-harassed or safe to be who they were," Stovall.

"If we're going to set up a second school, and we may need to, let that separate school be for the bullies. I think we used to call that a reform school," said Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois.

Garcia is among a group of gay rights advocates who do not think a separate school is the solution.

"Separate is not equal, and segregation is never good," he said.

Thursday, those who proposed the new school will meet to re-tool the curriculum. They hope to resubmit their plan in the next six months.

A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools indicates the board is supportive of a gay-specific school. Supporters still hope to have it up and running in 2010.


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