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Report details CA schools failing LGBT students

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Equality California has released its first report card looking at how school districts are educating LGBTQ students.
Equality California has released its first report card looking at how school districts are educating LGBTQ students.  

A groundbreaking report has found that the majority of California's school districts are failing LGBT students.

Despite state laws aimed at protecting LGBT pupils and requiring schools teach about LGBT history, most schools in the state have yet to implement the legislation, according to the report. And the report shows that few school administrators are properly training educators and support staff on how to address bias and bullying based on a student's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The findings come from Equality California's 2019 Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card, which it officially released Monday (May 13). A corresponding website detailing the report's findings and results for individual school districts also went live at http://safesupportiveschools.org/.

EQCA sent the survey to all of California's 343 unified school districts to fill out voluntarily. Less than half — 130 school districts — turned in the surveys despite repeated efforts by the statewide LGBT advocacy organization and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, which provided pro bono assistance, to have school administrators participate.

"While certain districts reported they have made great strides, other districts reported that much work remains to be done in their schools," wrote EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur in the introduction to the report. "Unfortunately, nearly 62% of all California's unified school districts failed to respond to the survey at all."

It is believed to be the first time an agency has scored a state's individual school districts on how they are educating LGBT pupils and their straight peers. The hope is that parents, students, educators, and advocates will use the findings to press schools to do a better job when it comes to protecting and educating LGBT students.

"This report will help to create transparency as school districts across our state work to implement best practices, policies and programs to protect and support LGBTQ students," wrote State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in a letter accompanying the report.

The survey was broken into five areas of concern: school climate, cultural competency training, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, curriculum, and suicide prevention. All of the participating school districts have existing policies prohibiting harassment and bullying, while 82 of the districts regularly collect data about their LGBT students.

But 46 districts do not train their staff about diversity and anti-bias issues, while those that do vary on requiring such training of their employees depending on the grade level they work in.

Just 64 districts have policies in place to change a transgender student's name and gender on school records, such as transcripts, while only 54 said they require teachers and school personnel to use a student's preferred name and gender pronoun. Nearly all the districts, however, allow students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender and also provide an easily accessible gender-neutral bathroom.

While 88 school districts have updated their sexual health curriculum to include discussion of relationships other than cisgender heterosexual couples, seven districts said they still use an optional/opt-in system for their sexual health education. Six districts do the same for their HIV prevention education.

Just 65 districts said they are teaching about LGBTQ history in their classrooms. However, 91 districts have yet to purchase LGBT-inclusive textbooks or teaching materials in order to meet the requirements of the state's FAIR Education Act, which mandates the teaching of LGBT topics in social science and history classes.

The report breaks the school districts into four tiers, with the lowest being those that did not respond. Twenty-two districts, including San Francisco Unified and Visalia Unified in Tulare County, made it into the top tier of "spotlight districts."

Another 80 landed in the second tier dubbed "foundational districts," while 28 were categorized as "priority districts" in the third tier.

A fundraising campaign is underway for EQCA to beef up its staffing in order to hire people to work directly with individual school districts to improve their scores and introduce training for their staff. It plans to biennially release new report cards.

EQCA pinpointed three areas where it felt school districts need the most improvement. It is recommending that LGBTQ-inclusive cultural competency trainings be required for all teachers and school staff.

It wants to see every school district in the state adopt policies requiring transgender students be referred to by their preferred name and pronoun. And it wants to see every school using LGBT-inclusive textbooks or teaching materials in the classroom.

The Bay Area Reporter will have more on the report in Thursday's paper.

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