Two Santa Clara County school districts are creating safe school environments for LGBTQ students, but a new report shows more progress needs to be made.
Both Santa Clara Unified and San Jose Unified school districts received middle-tier scores according to the 2022 Equality California Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card, which rates districts on LGBTQ advocacy using factors including LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and awareness training for staff. Equality California is the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
The study surveyed a total of 118 districts across the state during the 2021-22 school year. Santa Clara Unified and San Jose Unified were the only two local districts from Santa Clara County surveyed. The metrics only targeted unified school districts and did not include districts that are elementary or high school only.
Santa Clara Unified School District received a score of 147 compared to San Mateo County’s Cabrillo Unified School District, which received the highest score of 191. Orange County’s Santa Ana Unified School District received the lowest score of 29.
Santa Clara Unified School District’s highest-scoring category involved school climate, which evaluates the district’s welcoming environments for LGBTQ students. Its curriculum category, which includes LGBTQ-inclusive sex education and acknowledges LGBTQ history, scored on the lower end.
The district is working on changes to better support LGBTQ students, partly in response to trends in other states, said Brad Stam, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer. The district is implementing accessible all-gender bathrooms, LGBTQ clubs on campus as well as an LGBTQ policy committee helmed by the district’s board.
“What’s going on nationally in some of the states… is quite scary. There was concern that caused us to look inward and say, ‘Are we doing enough?’” Stam told San José Spotlight. “We can only judge ourselves by the experience of our most historically underserved and marginalized students.”
San Jose Unified School District received an overall score of 117; the district’s highest-scoring categories involved school climate for the LGBTQ community and mental health support. The district’s lowest-scoring category was training, which includes staff developments on how to support LGBTQ students.
San Jose Unified School District did not respond to requests for comment.
Districts need to be at the forefront of ensuring school environments are supportive, especially as the safety of LGBTQ students is being attacked nationwide, local leaders said.
“Our young people deserve to see themselves reflected in what they’re learning about: It’s not about pushing an agenda. It’s not about encouraging people to identify a certain way,” said Adrienne Keel, director of The LGBTQ Youth Space. The organization provides counseling to youth and professional development training for schools and other local groups. “It’s just celebrating the validity and the experience and the resilience of different communities.”
Nationwide, schools are increasingly targeted by those pushing anti-LGBTQ policies. For example, book bans have targeted works with LGBTQ characters or by LGBTQ writers through reviews of books offered in libraries and classrooms. Santa Clara County is not immune to the nationwide trends, as political polarization hits school board races this election cycle and candidates are openly expressing anti-LGBTQ views.
Schools need to address LGBTQ inclusivity on many levels, from curriculum to hiring, said Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center. Antolovich said classes and books can highlight LGBTQ authors, scientists and athletes.
“A lot of it is in the hiring of teachers, counselors, even the admins have an impact on parents and the students,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight.
Visibility is also crucial, said Mary Ann Dewan, superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County and San José Spotlight columnist. The county is working to provide training and supplies for staff to display posters or badges in their classrooms that indicate LGBTQ support.
Santa Clara Unified School District’s next steps include analyzing curriculum to ensure book lists and lessons are more LGBTQ representative, while also providing training for staff that goes beyond awareness and focuses on advocacy, Stam said.
“We need to be in the top tier of districts at the forefront of this work,” Stam told San José Spotlight. “That’s the responsibility that we’ve taken on and the goal that we’ve set for ourselves.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.