The Atlanta Board of Education created a task force to support LGBTQ students in October and is in the process of selecting members for the task force.
The task force came after the board passed the Equity Policy in April. Board of Education member Cynthia Briscoe Brown chaired the Policy Review Committee and participated on the task force that worked on the policy.
The policy makes equity a priority and moves the board toward their goal of “remedying opportunity and learning gaps in the school system and creating a barrier-free environment which will enable all students to graduate ready for college and career,” the policy says.
The goal of the task force is to review the APS policies, procedures, regulations, and support services for LGBTQ students and employees to make sure the school district and board are meeting their needs, Brown said.
Board of Education Chair Jason Esteves said the task force will look at best practices, how APS is supporting its students and whether the district is doing it to the extent it needs to.
After the task force reviews policies and regulations, it will make recommendations to the board for them to consider and implement.
Brown said one thing she hopes will come out of the task force is the need to establish specific support for students in all of the clusters of schools in APS. For example, Grady and North Atlanta High Schools have either LGBTQ clubs or Gay Straight Alliance chapters, but not all high schools have them. She hopes these organizations will be more widely available to all students.
The board is in the process of selecting members and hope the task force will have its first meeting in December. The task force will be made up of students, teachers, administrative staff, and representatives of community organizations that either have expertise or provide services to the LGBTQ community.
“I think we’ve got a list of students we went out looking for students and staff to participate and we also needed to sort of brainstorm a list of community organizations that we wanted to invite. I think we’re trying to set up the first meeting for next month, so try to have it before the winter break,” Brown said.
Esteves said students will co-chair the task force and the board hopes to have students who identify as LGBTQ as well as at least one ally involved.
The task force was not inspired by an event or situation but rather to make sure APS is acting to achieve equity.
“The Equity Policy has really made us think about all the ways in which we need to be serving and supporting our students and our staff,” Brown said.
Esteves said the key is also to be proactive rather than reactive to a situation. He said there seems to be a perceived increase of bullying and suicide deaths among students across the country. He wants to make sure a situation like that doesn’t happen in APS.
Esteves also spoke to Charles Stephens, founder and executive director of the Counter Narrative Project, who discussed the need to support black LGBTQ students in particular.
The Counter Narrative Project is an organization that “builds power among black gay men and works in solidarity and coalition with all movements committed to social and racial justice,” according to their website.
Both Brown and Esteves have heard positive reactions from students, families and community members.
Brown said the board has had overwhelming interest from students who want to volunteer to be on the task force. She also is not aware of any negative response.
Esteves said he has heard from families and community members who are excited about the initial announcement and who have been appreciative that APS is taking this on.
“I think it’s frankly needed everywhere, all across the country and school systems need to take this issue head on,” Esteves said. “But in Atlanta, we’ve been pretty supportive of GSAs and we’ve marched in the last four or five Pride parades, but we wanted to take that support of our community further by having something tangible, that we can show beyond just signs of support.”