“In the school system Human Rights Education is an important component of the right to quality education, as it enables the education system to fulfill its fundamental aims of promoting the full development of the human personality and appreciation of human dignity, of strengthening respect for human rights and of delivering a quality education for all.”
– UNESCO, 2014
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
– Harvey Milk
“If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
– Maya Angelou
The Santa Cruz County Safe Schools Report was completed in March 2015 with input from many people throughout Santa Cruz and the State of California. The purpose for writing this report was to determine how other school districts in California are addressing LGBT issues – especially in relation to LGBT history in the curriculum (SB 48 passed in 2011), treatment of transgender students (AB 1266 passed in 2013), Sex Education inclusivity (SB 71, 2003) and leadership regarding a safe schools culture.
The purpose of this research brief is to identify how K-12 school districts in California have implemented Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) legislation through policy and curriculum, and to identify the research and practices that may be considered in maintaining safe school environments by schools and school districts throughout Santa Cruz County. Various laws have been passed in California regarding LGBT youth since 2004. California court case law has emphasized that it is the responsibility of schools and school districts to keep students safe mentally and physically. Many districts have implemented policies or administrative regulations to ensure the safety of all students. Annual school climate surveys indicate how safe students feel on their campuses. Despite laws, court cases, policies, regulations, and surveys, there are students in California and Santa Cruz County schools who do not feel safe on their school campus, students who have committed suicide because of bullying, a lack of professional development regarding bullying and LGBT topics, and a lack of LGBT inclusive history being taught. Various studies and research indicate that when all students feel safe, they are more engaged in learning, have better school attendance, and make healthier choices regarding relationships and sexual intimacy.
Overall reports and statistics reveal the following:
• Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death overall in the United States, and the third leading cause of death for youth age 15 through 24. LGBT youth have a significantly higher rate – perhaps two-three times higher – of attempting suicide than heterosexual youth.” (Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 2008).
• “Studies since the mid- to late 1990s have documented the higher rates of harassment, exclusion, and assault experienced by LGBT youth in schools compared to their heterosexual peers (Russell et al, 2010).”
• At least five California students, ages 13-15, that has been reported, committed suicide because of school bullying during the past five years, some because of LGBT related bullying (Appendix 1, Short Case Studies of LGBT Youth).
• Multiple California court cases regarding LGBT bullying and the importance of teacher and student training were settled in the past 12 years (Appendix 4, California Case Law Regarding LGBT Students).
• Over 85% of LGBT youth report being harassed because of their sexual or gender identity, and over 20% report being physically attacked. (Biegel & Kuel, 2010. National Education Policy Center.).
• Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 26% of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010…Almost 60% of youth with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected (HIV Among Youth. Center for Disease Control – CDC, 2014)
• 80% of California school districts have anti-discrimination policies in place but do not formally evaluate the effectiveness of these policies (California State Auditor Report 2012-108, 2013).
• 20% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. LGBTQ youth, generally homeless because of family rejection, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009).
Specific to LGBT related topics; organizations and researchers have conducted surveys and reports that have examined LGBT topics from the health perspective (HIV / Sex Education), mental health perspective (bullying, wellness, suicide prevention), education perspective (whole school LGBT activities, Gay Student Alliances, and LGBT inclusive curriculum) and educational leadership perspective (creating a culture of acceptance and inclusiveness).
Every level of education from university to K-12 has discussed the right combination of leadership, policies, educational programs, professional development and support systems needed to create a school culture and climate where all students feel safe. Research and reports indicate that schools and school districts should adopt proactive whole school climate initiatives that demonstrate a commitment to inclusive policies, implement LGBT-inclusive programs, develop and implement LGBT-related professional development, and implement LGBT-inclusive curriculum (Biegel & Kuel, National Education Policy Center, 2010).