By Madeline Deninger
There is evidence showing a disparity in comfort and safety between LGBTQ students and non-LGBTQ students in the Iowa City School District, according to a report delivered to the School Board.
The board met Tuesday night at the Educational Services Center, 1725 N. Dodge St., and received a report containing data regarding LGBTQ student identities and demographics in the district as well as attitudes and beliefs of LGBTQ students.
The report also provided recommendations about actions the district could take to be more inclusive for LGBTQ students. One such recommendation was to “provide professional development opportunities for all [district] educators and student support staff on LGBTQ identity, experience, and inclusion.”
Another recommendation was to gradually integrate LGBTQ material into the district’s curricula and build upon that.
The data, provided by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center, pointed out a disparity between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students in the district in such areas as comfort talking to teachers and guidance counselors and feeling a sense of belonging and safety.
In one survey of district students, 31 percent of students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual felt safe in school hallways and bathrooms, as opposed to 51 percent of their straight peers.
“We know from several different national surveys that LGBTQ students feel less included in school in various ways, that they have greater rates of reporting being victimized, and having lower levels of school staff,” said Sarah Bruch, the director of the Social and Education Policy Research Program at the Public Policy Center, while presenting the report to the board.
“That’s problematic on its own. What the literature also shows is that having these negative experiences has consequences in terms of having lower GPAs, missing school more often. There is also the mental issue of having lower self-esteem and higher rates of substance abuse.”
The presentation included data indicating that gay-straight alliances in schools had a positive effect on LGBTQ students’ feeling of belonging in the schools. The report also recommended the district continue to provide support for LGBTQ student groups in schools.
All secondary schools in the district have a gay-straight alliance. School Superintendent Stephen Murley pointed out the role of faculty advisers in gay-straight alliances in the School District, noting that the advisers provide students with trusted adults to turn to.
Will Coghill-Behrends, the director of the Baker Teacher Leader Center in the UI College of Education, said the School District has some catching up to do with progressive policies in the district’s schools.
“We have made a ton of progress in the past decades on policy, on law, on legitimization of identities in our schools, but it seems to not necessarily be the case here in Iowa City still,” he said. “I think the results of [this report] are alarming.There’s a lot of momentum in the community to do something positive in this regard, and I hope that we will.”