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Burlington School District taking applications for LGBTQ Task Force

Burlington School District LGBTQ+ poster
provided by Burlington School District
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Burlington School District LGBTQ+ poster

The Burlington, Vermont School District is forming an LGBTQ+ Task Force to be composed primarily of students and community members.

The Burlington, Vermont School District is forming an LGBTQ+ Task Force to be composed primarily of students and community members. It is charged with creating a plan of action that recognizes the district’s strengths and provides recommendations for improvements to support the district’s LGBTQ+ community. District Equity Instructional Leader Autumn Bangoura tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley any recommendations must further the district’s equitable, safe and inclusive policies.

It’s needed because students and staff that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community don’t always feel like ours schools are institutions that are safe for them. Youth risk surveys indicate that those students have more thoughts of self-harm and suicide and depression and mental health needs. There’s an increase and uptick in hate speech and homophobic slurs. And so we really want to address this and say what are we going to do; we’re not doing enough right now to make sure our schools are safe and inclusive. And so this task force is really a cutting edge working group to really examine our current practices, to highlight what we’re doing well and to then come up with a set of recommendations to improve our practices.

Autumn, does the school district have any idea the volume of people in the district, whether it’s students or staff, that identify in LGBTQ+? Because with the discrimination that’s out there I’m sure there’s some people that would not want to express that identity.

Yeah, that’s a really good question. And we’ve had several conversations about data collection and how it just doesn’t feel right to ask young people or even staff to out themselves or express their sexual orientation. It kind of feels private. I can just speak from personal experience that the youth today feel much more comfortable and empowered to come out to their peers. They’re having a lot more open conversations about their gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. So we actually, we don’t have a clear you know this percentage of students identify this way. When I talked about youth risk data I rely on outside sources such as Outright Vermont that does the Youth Risk Survey.

Autumn, the task force is going to come up with a set of recommendations for the school district to try to create policies and programs that will help the students. What types of initiatives does the district already have in place to support the students?

You know we do have some things in place and that’s part of what the task force is going to do, is to review what good things and positive things we’re already doing. A couple examples: one is that in the middle and high school there are gay and social justice clubs. So there are student activists. And there are faculty mentors that have come out to support these students. Recently at Edmunds Middle School there’s also been a support for non-binary and transgender students as well. We’re also having increased staff representation from the queer community and staff feeling comfortable like they can come out to students in order to show that, indicating that they’re safe. And we have safe space signs up in many of our classrooms.

I saw that in seeking members for the task force that there’s a definite need for students to apply and that the co-chair is planned to be a student. That seems to be a big priority based on the press release that went out. How many students do you want to have on the task force and how much do you think that’s going to mean to the community of students in the school district?

We’re hoping to have a task force of 11 members and we’re hoping to have 5 to 6 students with a student co-chair who’s really deciding how the work takes place. With that kind of a balance with the 50-50 student-adult youth-adult partnership voice we’re hoping that that kind of really really prioritizes that students are leading the conversation. We’re doing a lot better as a school district to really lift up and empower youth leadership. And I think one of the things that we’re going to do right from the beginning is just really emphasize student voice so that they’re allowed to really share stories and to really make recommendations. Because schools are about students and the improvements we want to make for them.

The application deadline to be a member of the task force is Wednesday. Meetings begin in January and the recommendations must be submitted to the superintendent by April 30, 2022. They will then be integrated into the district’s strategic plan.

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