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200 discuss high school for gay, lesbian, transgender youth in Chicago

CPS chief Arne Duncan expected to decide fate by Oct. 1

By Carlos Sadovi | Chicago Tribune reporter - LINK

September 19, 2008

Weeks after a proposal to open Chicago's first public high school catering to gay, lesbian and transgender youth was announced, about 200 people on Thursday met with administrators at the city's main gay social services center to discuss whether it's a good idea.

The Social Justice High School—Pride Campus would offer a college-preparatory curriculum in which students would take four years each of English and math, three years each of foreign languages and science, as well as fine arts and physical education, administrators said during the public hearing at the Center on Halsted on Chicago's North Side.

"[We want] to continue to provide a college-prep campus for students who are often overlooked," said Chad Weiden, an assistant principal at the Social Justice High School who would be the principal of Pride Campus. "Gay, lesbian and transgender students are often overlooked in our district. And this is a school for all students."

As a gay youth, Weiden said, he often experienced violence and fear at school.

But Andy Thayer, a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, said he fears the Pride Campus could relieve Chicago Public School administrators of responsibility for making sure gay and lesbian students throughout the district are being treated respectfully.

"My fear is that the rest of the system will be let off the hook," Thayer said. "The notion that the Pride Campus is a silver bullet to set aside all needs of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] youth is mistaken."

Administrators at the meeting said the Pride Campus would not segregate gay students because attendance is voluntary and the institution would be open to all students, regardless of their sexual orientation.

District chief executive Arne Duncan is expected to decide by Oct. 1 whether he wants to bring the proposal for Pride Campus to the board for a vote. If Duncan decides to go forward with the plan, there will be at least one more public hearing before the board votes on Oct. 22.

Backers of the school said that even if they receive the necessary approvals, they do not expect the school to open until 2012. A site for the school must still be determined.

The plan is being put forward by members of the Greater Lawndale Little Village High School for Social Justice.

Officials expect a school of up to 600 students, and those familiar with the project expect a high population of minorities.



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