As we near the end of Pride Month, the Oregon Department of Education released a success plan Friday focused on LGBTQ students and making sure students feel supported and connected to their school environments.
“Oregon has been a national leader in protecting the civil rights for LGBTQ2SIA+ youth,” said ODE Director Colt Gill in a release announcing the plan. “It was among the first states to allow students to identify as non-binary or gender-fluid and developed and distributed guidance to protect the rights of transgender students. It is now imperative that we seek legislative support and funding to fully engage our LGBTQ2SIA+ youth and provide education equity.”
Similar to ODE’s plans for specific student groups including the Black/African American Student Success Plan and the American Indian/Native Alaskan Student Success Plan, this new plan for LGBTQ students outlines potential actions and strategies that can be taken both at a state level and locally to help students feel safe and supported, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
A lot of the work in this new plan for students happened as the state was dealing with COVID-19. The state organized four sessions with current and former students to hear about their school experiences this spring.
Those conversations, as well as previous state directives and research on student experiences helped inform the state’s success plan for LGBTQ students.
The plan’s recommendations include creating regional student networks and a statewide school climate culture survey. Other actions include training teachers through university programs and state licensing, and providing an online directory for better understanding the LGBTQ community.
The plan’s authors, however, acknowledge the limitations to issuing guidance or releasing a plan without any financial or real support.
Using Oregon’s health education standards as a case study, the report states that even though Oregon requires schools teach about gender identity and sexual orientation, the state doesn’t have the staff or the curriculum to truly enforce implementation for students in all of Oregon’s 197 school districts.
“Thus the cycle remains locked in which Oregon has health education standards that require districts to recognize LGBTQ2SIA+ identities and the identities of diverse racial/ethnic groups, and yet there is little support for the State or for districts to actually ensure these are implemented, even with the best of intentions,” according to the plan.
Additionally, an analysis of existing state policy in the report found that policy on its own does not create a safe space for LGBTQ students in schools. For example, students may not know their rights to report discrimination, or the process to do so.
The advisory group behind the plan included parents, state leaders, and school staff around Oregon.
The group included Kieran Chase, transgender justice program manager for Basic Rights Oregon. They say this is just the first step in creating inclusive environments for students.
“There’s going to be a lot of talking to LGBTQ students about how to actually implement these things,” Chase said. “There’s going to be a lot of conversations about how funding is going to be administered.”
There’s also the question of how the work on this plan will continue as Oregon continues to deal with the impacts — financial and otherwise — of COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic can potentially inform efforts to support LGBTQ students going forward. For example, Chase said the advisory group discussed the risk of increased cyber-bullying as a potential result of virtual learning in the fall.
“I think that’s going to become something these guidelines will have to really robustly address.”