School authorities in Chicago are hoping to set up a gay-friendly campus in an attempt to prevent bullied gay students from dropping out.
A 2003 district survey shows that gay and lesbian youths are three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. On Wednesday, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a national survey of more than 6,000 middle and high school students that found that nearly 90 percent were harassed at school and about 61 percent felt unsafe.
Final approval of the School for Social Justice Pride Campus, designed as the city's first school for gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers, along with 17 other schools, is expected to come Oct. 22 when the Board of Education votes.
Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago Public Schools, told Chicago Tribune he will ask the board to approve the schools, which are expected to open in the fall of 2009 and 2010, to give greater choice to parents and students. ''We want to create great new options for communities that have been traditionally underserved,'' he said. ''If you look at national studies, you see gay and lesbian students with high dropout rates. . . . I think there is a niche there we need to fill.''
About 50 people attended a public hearing Wednesday night, with most supporting the school. Supporters said they envision a high school with a maximum of 600 students. It would have the same staffing and oversight requirements as other district schools. Students would be admitted from throughout the city on a lottery basis, officials said.
Chad Weiden, an assistant principal at the Social Justice High School who would be principal at Pride Campus, said the school would incorporate lessons about sexual identity in literature and history classes and offer counseling. The school would be prohibited under state and federal laws from asking about a student's sexual identity, officials said.
Arne Duncan said the school would provide a supportive atmosphere for gay pupils, using prominent gays and lesbians - including James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein - in its curriculum.
Bill Greaves, the city's liaison officer on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said the school would ''make sure these people are not invisible in history.''
He said it was important that gay and lesbian historical figures were highlighted to give young gay people positive, successful role models.
The scheme has already been tried elsewhere, with the Alliance High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which considers itself ''gay friendly'' and has 125 students.