The San Diego County Office of Education is partnering with community organizations, educators around the county, and other experts to further efforts to ensure safe and inclusive learning environments for all students.
"Feeling safe is a basic and fundamentally important need," said Don Buchheit, senior director of Student Services for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). "It is well-known that when students—or adults—do not feel safe, it undermines learning, teaching, and healthy development."
SDCOE recently joined Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP) and the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council to host a "Youth LGBTQ Suicide Prevention Forum & Resource Fair" at its North County Regional Education Center in San Marcos. LGBTQ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Upward of 100 school administrators, counselors, and other educators attended the half-day forum, which included a keynote presentation from Dr. Vincent Pompei, director of the Youth Well-Being Project at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
"When students feel safe and well-connected at school, academic achievement and attendance rise," Pompei said. "We have the same priorities here. … We have to ensure that all kids are feeling safe and well and included at school."
In 2015, at least four suicides of transgender teens were reported in San Diego County.
"We wanted to start a conversation on LGBTQ suicide prevention," CHIP program assistant Lora Cayanan said. "The Suicide Prevention Council's Schools Collaborative Subcommittee saw a need through their work."
CHIP and its partners hope to replicate the recent forum in other areas of the county so that school administrators know which community-based organizations they can reach out to for support.
Buchheit presented data from the 2014-15 California Healthy Kids Survey, urging all elements of a school community to get involved – parents, PTAS, teachers, and community members.
"One caring adult relationship at a school can help a student," Buchheit said. "One of the foundations for school safety and an effective citizenry is transforming schools from a community of passive bystanders to a community of 'upstanders' who respond responsibly to problems."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey that significant disparities were found among LGBTQ students in San Diego schools, including higher rates of bullying, feelings of hopelessness, alcohol and substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts.
SDCOE continues the LGBTQ education outreach efforts with two upcoming training sessions geared toward administrators, school board members, superintendents, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and others in the education community.
On Jan. 25, Pompei will facilitate "Creating Safe and Inclusive Schools for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students" at the North County Regional Education Center in San Marcos. On Feb. 18, SDCOE and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) SDCOE will host "Creating a Safe Space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth" at the main SDCOE office in Linda Vista. Facilitators are certified trainers with GLSEN, including Mara Madrigal-Weiss of SDCOE.
Like the recent forum, these two training sessions also will address legal mandates for districts to support LGBTQ students.
Registration is open now for both training events.