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In the spring, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) launched the Hopes and Dreams campaign, an ambitious effort that asked thousands of residents to share their visions for our school system. Insightful and inspiring, the responses have affirmed my vision for the future of DCPS: a healthy and thriving education community where students, teachers, school leaders, parents and community members feel safe, welcome and supported.
As chancellor of DCPS, I believe I have no greater responsibility than to create and maintain a safe learning environment for all children and adults who enter our buildings.
I envision DCPS as a close-knit community – an extended family, if you will – of dedicated educators, active students, and supportive parents and community members who believe in working together as one city to improve the quality of education in the District of Columbia.
If anyone in our family feels vulnerable, we are all vulnerable.
Educators can’t teach and students can’t learn in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Schools can’t succeed and communities can’t thrive where harassment threatens the physical and emotional well-being of our family.
While I have hope for the future, I know that members of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community – in the District and nationwide – experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and intimidation that serves to alienate people and destroy lives.
According to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students reported experiencing harassment in the past year. And nearly 19 percent reported being physically assaulted in the past year because of their gender expression.
Here in the District, 31 percent of high school students in 2007 who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual reported being bullied at least once on school property in the previous year – nearly twice the percentage of students who identified themselves as heterosexual. In that same year, about 8.5 percent of all high school students reported being threatened or hurt because someone thought they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Fear, intimidation and harassment lead to truancy, poor grades and depression. It puts young lives at risk and destroys our community. I have seen the grim statistics and heard too many tragic stories. And I pledge to parents and family members: I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in D.C. Public Schools.
At the beginning of 2011, DCPS formed the LGBTQ Steering Committee, in collaboration with school staff and administrators, parents, community and national experts. The committee met monthly and held listening sessions with various stakeholders in order to draft a plan that specifically addresses harassment toward members of the LGBTQ community.
The plan focuses on outreach, engagement and training; resources and supports; and heightened awareness to create an environment where all students, families, school staff and administrators can feel safe and welcome.
This is a positive step in the right direction, but it will take a broader commitment from the entire community to move this school district closer to my vision; closer to what we all deserve.
I encourage readers and all District residents to join us in our efforts to create a more inclusive school community. Visit the DCPS LGBTQ page on Facebook, leave us a message, and click ”Like” while you are there. You also can send us an email at and share your ideas on how to move the school district forward.
We want to hear from everyone in the community. We cannot create great schools alone. We are all in this together!
Kaya Henderson serves as chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.