Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday July 11th, 2016, 12:12pm

Report: LGBTQ Youth Face Hostile School Environments, 'Harsh' Disciplinary Actions

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students encounter hostile school environments and face "harsh and exclusionary disciplinary policies" that may effectively push them out of school and possibly into the criminal and juvenile justice systems.

That's according to a report released late last month from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

"Findings from this report demonstrate that, for many LGBTQ students, schools are hostile environments that effectively function to push students out of school, depriving them of the opportunity to learn," the report reads. "When LGBTQ students feel less safe, less comfortable, and less welcome in schools, they are less likely to attend and more likely to drop out.

"School policies that disproportionately affect LGBTQ students, such as gendered dress codes and rules about public displays of affection, also expose LGBTQ youth to greater rates of school discipline and sometimes, as a result, involvement in the justice system."

The report is based in part on GLSEN's National School Climate survey conducted during the 2012-2013 school year. A total of 7,898 students between the ages of 13 and 21 participated in the national survey.

GLSEN's latest report, "Educational Exclusion: Drop Out, Push Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline among LGBTQ Youth," also includes new findings from an updated examination of school discipline policies.

Eliza Byard, GLSEN's executive director, noted that the report's data was gathered "before the 2015-16 legislative session produced an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender legislation at the state level."

In particular, there has been nationwide debate over transgender bathroom policies.

In Illinois, a group of parents filed a lawsuit in May against the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and U.S. Departments of Justice and Education over locker room access for a transgender student. The case stems from a December agreement reached between the school district and U.S. Education Department to let a transgender student at Fremd High School access a gender-appropriate locker room.

"Next school year could be an especially difficult time, particularly for transgender students facing heightened sensitivity regarding the issue of bathroom access," Byard wrote in the report's preface. "However, there are significant reasons for hope. Some districts and school leaders are newly aware of the challenges facing LGBTQ students and eager to take action in response. And the federal data sets guiding national policymaking are entering a new era, with greater inclusion of LGBTQ youth across several important studies."

According to GLSEN's report, two in five LGBTQ students, or 39.8 percent, reported receiving at least one of the following forms of discipline: detention, in-school or out-of-school suspension or expulsion. LGBTQ students were more likely to experience each kind of disciplinary action than their non-LGBTQ peers, the report states.

"Perhaps not surprisingly, transgender and gender-nonconforming youth fared the absolute worst, and were three times more likely than LGBQ students to say that they did not expect to finish high school," Byard wrote.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Bullying, harassment and absenteeism may contribute to high rates of discipline. Among LGBTQ students, higher levels of victimization were associated with higher rates of school discipline, potentially because bullying incidents put LGBTQ students in greater contact with school authorities. Lack of safety resulted in many LGBTQ students missing school, putting them at risk for disciplinary sanctions for truancy. Students who had missed school because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable were more likely to have been disciplined at school than those who had not (54 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • Anti-LGBTQ discriminatory policies and practices may also contribute to high rates of discipline. Over half (56 percent) of LGBTQ students experienced some form of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school, and these students were more likely to have received school discipline than those who did not experience discrimination (48 percent vs. 32 percent). Almost one in ten students (9 percent) even reported being disciplined specifically because they were LGBTQ.
  • Victimization, absenteeism and discrimination may also increase LGBTQ students' risk of contact with the justice system. LGBTQ students who reported high levels of victimization, absenteeism or discrimination were more likely to have been involved with the justice system as a result of school discipline. The likelihood of this involvement was five times higher for LGBTQ students experiencing homelessness than for those who lived with a parent or guardian. Transgender students and LGBTQ students with disabilities were also more likely to have been involved with the justice system due to school discipline.

Implementing comprehensive anti-harassment and bullying policies as well as establishing restorative justice models of discipline are among several recommendations included in the report to improve school climates and outcomes for LGBTQ students.

Here are some of GLSEN's recommendations:

  • At the school, district, state and federal levels, laws and policies should specifically protect LGBTQ students from harassment and discrimination.
  • Rather than zero-tolerance policies, schools should employ graduated approaches to discipline, ensuring that disciplined students still have access to learning opportunities.
  • Teachers should employ culturally responsive teaching and incorporate positive representations of LGBTQ people and topics into their curriculum.
  • If School Resource/Safety Officers are used in schools, they must be trained to appropriately respond to anti-LGBTQ bias and not discriminate against LGBTQ students.
  • Alternative paths to high school completion, such as GED programs, alternative schools, and education in juvenile detention centers, should be available, safe and affirming for LGBTQ youth.
  • All staff should intervene when bullying occurs, in ways that do not blame the victims of bullying incidents, and consider using restorative practices rather than only punitive discipline measures.

"It is abundantly clear that LGBTQ students face disproportionately high levels of school discipline due to hostile school climates that ultimately deprive many of them not only of their education, but also the success in life that education affords," Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN's chief research and strategy officer, said in a statement. "Given the findings of Educational Exclusion, we must redouble our efforts to create supportive schools for LGBTQ students, particularly transgender and gender nonconforming students, students experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities and students of color."

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