During a second public hearing regarding a proposed Chicago public high school for LGBTQ students and their allies, public feedback was nearly 100 percent positive.
The public hearing, held Oct. 8 at the Center on Halsted, took place on the same day that the head of Chicago Public Schools ( CPS ) recommended the proposed gay-friendly school to the school board. CPS CEO Arne Duncan included the School for Social Justice Pride Campus in his recommendation of 20 proposed schools. If chosen, Pride Campus would open in 2010. The proposed school would be open to all students, but would cater to the needs of LGBTQ students and their allies.
Pride Campus, which would be open to all students who wish to attend, would have an enrollment of roughly 600 students. The design team plans to implement a college preparatory curriculum and make the school a safe and affirming environment for all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ.
The school's design team still has not chosen a location for Pride Campus. Members of the design team said that once the school gains approval, they will move forward in choosing a location. Previously, they have expressed their desire to find a safe, central location for Pride Campus that is easy for all students to access.
About 40 people attended the Oct. 8 public hearing at Center on Halsted. Of the roughly 25 individuals who spoke, nearly all were fully supportive of the Pride Campus.
Among those who spoke were politicians, LGBT activists, leaders of LGBT organizations, teachers, students and allies.
While many individuals expressed their excitement and full support of the school, one man, activist Craig Teichen, stressed his desire for CPS to make all public schools implement LGBT- and sex-positive programming. Teichen also mentioned his fear that CPS will make the Pride Campus a 'dumping ground' for LGBTQ students. At a September meeting, other individuals expressed similar concerns, and argued that such a school would segregate LGBTQ youth and shield them from the 'real world.'
Others present, however, stressed that LGBTQ students need to deal with the real world every day, and deserve a safe and affirming educational environment. Many gays and lesbians shared their own high school experiences during the hearing, such as DePaul University professor Beth Kelly, who said she had a 'brutal' experience.
Until all schools are safe and affirming, Pride Campus is necessary, Kelly said. 'It is just one step among many, but will serve as a model for other programs,' she added. 'This is something we can do before we have a perfect world in the far distant future.'
Others addressed the argument that Pride Campus is a form of segregation, calling it 'misguided.' Many pointed out that the school will be open to all students and said it serves as an additional option for youth.
Several members of Lambda Legal spoke at the public hearing, including attorney Jim Madigan, who joked that 'Usually when I come to a school board meeting it is because I am suing them.' Madigan, who through Lambda Legal has addressed deficiencies within the CPS system in terms of protecting LGBTQA students, said that Pride Campus is necessary and will serve as a model to other CPS schools. Madigan said that making the entire CPS system perfect is 'naïve,' and 'a long way off.'
'Until then, we are sacrificing students,' Madigan added. 'I think it will be a bridge to improving all schools.'
Openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, during the hearing, said that he came to the last public forum with 'mixed feelings,' but fully supports the Pride Campus and has a 'good feeling' about what it can accomplish. He hopes it receives the school board's approval.
A third and final public hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 15, from 6-8 p.m., at the CPS Board Chambers, 5th floor, 125 S. Clark St. Those who can't attend, but wish to submit a statement voicing their concern or support, can fax it to the CPS Office of New Schools at 773-553-1559. Public record will be kept open until 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17.
The Board of Education will vote on the 20 proposed high schools on Wednesday, Oct. 22.