Proposed school catering to gays expands mission
New Chicago public school would target all disenfranchised students, officials say
By Carlos Sadovi | Tribune reporter - LINK
November 18, 2008
Organizers behind a plan to develop Chicago's first public high school catering to gay and lesbian students have changed the name and broadened the focus of the school to include all disenfranchised groups of students, according to officials.
The revised plan is expected to be voted on Wednesday by the Chicago Board of Education. It comes after religious leaders, some gay rights activists and Mayor Richard Daley expressed concerns that developing the proposed School for Social Justice's Pride Campus would segregate gay youths. If the school is approved, it will be named the Social Justice Solidarity High School when it opens in 2010.
"While the school will be open to all students, its special mission will be to provide a haven where students can feel safe and valued for who they are," reads the mission statement of the proposed school.
The organizers behind the Social Justice Solidarity High School said in a statement that the changes reflected concerns they heard during public hearings.
"This school proposal went through a very rigorous community input process," the statement said, noting that as a public school, organizers aim to reach "the broadest base of support possible."
Michael Vaughn, a district spokesman said, "They wanted to try and make sure that the scope was broadened so that kids who are isolated for other issues, whether that be religion, obesity or other things that kids get teased about . . . have a spot at that school too."
Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus, pastor of the New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park said he and other ministers were against the initial proposal because it segregated students. "I'm happy with the end result. All of the kids will win. We want to be sensitive to every child," DeJesus said.
But several gay activists said they believe the new plan is a "watered-down" version of what is needed to keep these children safe. Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, said he and other gay activists plan to protest the changes.
Thayer said there was little opposition at several public meetings to the version of the plan that focused on gay and lesbian students. Thayer has said the district should focus on making all students and staff more tolerant.
"I think it's frankly a caving in, and I think it's unfortunate," said Thayer.
Also on Wednesday, the school board is expected to vote on a revamped proposal affecting the Skinner Classical School, a gifted school in the West Loop. A previous plan to put gifted students alongside neighborhood students in a new building next fall angered Skinner parents whose children are required to test into their program.
The new Skinner plan calls for setting up two Skinner campusesone housing both neighborhood students and gifted students in a new building. A second campus where Skinner students are attending school until the new building is completed in the fall will be maintained as a school exclusively for gifted students, Vaughn said.