Tasked with change: Group pinpoints areas for improvement in the district

Photo taken at BHS Drag Ball. Photo: Fritz Senftleber

Photo taken at BHS Drag Ball. Photo: Fritz Senftleber

Clio Burns, Staff Writer

LGBTQ+ students face a host of issues, with severe mental health impacts, that their peers do not share. According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey of high school students conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported making a suicide plan, while only 12.1%  of heterosexual students reported making a suicide plan. 

In order to provide better support to LGBTQ+ students, the Burlington School District formed a task force in January 2022, composed of students, administrators, and community members, with the goal to pinpoint community concerns. In April 2022, the task force will present their findings to the superintendent.

“We’ve known for a long time that we need to be focusing on these issues,” Autumn Bangora, the school district’s Equity Instructional Leader, said. “I work on [a curriculum designed to prevent discrimination], and I think a lot has come up that teachers don’t always feel comfortable addressing homophobia and LGBTQ+ issues.”

Although this is the first group formed to help LGBTQ+ students throughout the entire district, many schools have their own student-led advocacy groups.

Throughout the school year, students from the BHS Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) have discussed harmful experiences that LGBTQ+ students face at BHS. Among these, many stressed the misgendering of transgender students. Ambrose Cusick ‘24 pointed out that while much of this comes from classmates, teachers misgender students as well. 

“[Misgendering] just kind of sucks,” Cusick said. “It really sucks. [The school district’s treatment of LGBTQ+ students] is not terrible, but I think we could do better on being more inclusive and informing people on more things.”

The only way we can do better is to know where we’re falling short.”

— Lauren McBride

 

Sawyer Totten ‘22, a co-leader of the GSA, agreed with Cusick’s complaint and cited the lack of training offered for teachers as the main cause of the issue. 

While the district has yet to offer training for teachers, administration at BHS has placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of using the correct pronouns. BHS faculty receive ‘Weekly Roundup’ emails, which in the past, have brought awareness to the importance of stating preferred pronouns of both students and staff members.

“There’s a bunch of different pockets of work that are happening here at our school that help to think about our LGBTQIA+ community and also students and their experiences,” BHS Principal

Lauren McBride said. “We’re trying to really think about a wide range of different experiences that students in our community have.”

McBride encouraged students to come forward with any feedback they have for the school. 

“The only way we can do better is to know where we are falling short,” McBride said. 

The GSA’s other student co-leader, Aria Batten ‘23, believes that more can still be accomplished to create a safe space for students at BHS. 

“I think it’s always a relentless pursuit of, ‘Yes, things are better than they were, but we’re not comparing the present to the past,” Batten said. “We’re comparing the present to what it could be in the future.”

The district’s new LGBTQ+ task force is designed to identify these areas for improvement.  On December 6, the district’s Communication Specialist sent out an online application that was used to select its members.

“[The task force is] brand new, and it really is just: what are the needs of this community?” Bangora said. “What are we doing well? And what more do we need to do to address those needs?” 

The group has already held two meetings and has begun gathering feedback to share with the superintendent. 

“I think that it’s going really smoothly, and we’re starting to get stuff done,” Sophia Bassett ‘24, the task force’s student co-chair, said. 

When it comes to the task force, Totten is optimistic. 

“I hope people see it as the district trying to make this better for students,” he said. “And that’s something that’s really, really important.”