In June, Gender JUST, a local LGBTQA grassroots organization, organized a safe and affirming education community forum spotlighting Chicago Public Schools and the specific needs of LGBTQ students. At that meeting, the group secured a promise from CPS CEO Ron Huberman that he would meet with the group within 60 days. [Full disclosure: This reporter is also a member of Gender JUST.]
On August 18, the two parties met at a meeting that GJ Leadership Councils member Sam Finkelstein and Eric Amaya described as a success. According to Finkelstein, the group went into the meeting with a focus on three areas related to LGBTQ issues: resources for students, training for teachers and ways to hold CPS accountable when either or both were found unresponsive to student complaints about harassment or concerns about safety. Describing the meeting as “a huge victory,” he said that the group was “able to come to a [set of resolutions] that incorporated Gender JUST’s plans and solutions.”
GJ has been able to get Huberman’s agreement to create, with CPS funding, an “intervention team.” Said team would consist of students, parents and community organizers that overlooked issues related to student life for LGBTQ and other minority students or students harassed for any reason, on a district-wide level. This idea of an intervention team stemmed from an original GJ demand at the forum that CPS create an “accountability officer.” Asked about the timeline, Finkelstein said, “We are going to start pulling that committee together within the next month. He wouldn’t agree to making safe and affirming training mandatory for teachers, but we are not going to stop pushing for that.”
Finkelstein said that the differences between GJ and Huberman stemmed from the different priorities at work: “His priority is academic, but we believe that affirmation and safety cannot be separated from academics.” Finkelstein added said that the group wanted the CEO to issue a “Pride directive” to all students, staff and faculty reminding them that CPS was a safe and affirming place, but that Huberman made it clear that he didn’t like “proclamations.” Instead, the compromise is that Huberman will draft a letter that will go to all in CPS reminding them of the policies of safe and affirming education.
Gender JUST and Huberman are to meet again in six months, according to Finkelstein, to “make sure that the ball doesn’t get dropped.” In the meantime, he said, the group will continue to push for reform by asking for meetings with others in CPS, like CPS Board President Michael Scott. Finkelstein said that Gender JUST was “incredibly enthusiastic and cautiously optimistic” about this meeting and praised Huberman for his preparedness before entering the meeting. “He had obviously looked at the materials [Gender JUST’s proposals] beforehand and already gone through them with his legal team, so there was no delay in his saying he would have to consult with lawyers first.”
Eric Amaya, a senior at Kelly High School and also a member of GJ’s leadership council, also thought that ‘the meeting went very well,” but that it only went half an hour instead of the expected hour. Amaya was especially excited about the fact that Huberman was receptive to Gender JUST’s ‘student Justice Handbook,” meant to provide resources for all students “who feel lost, whether about pregnancy or about their sexual orientation.” Amaya said that Huberman “seemed really supportive” and that the meeting was “a small step towards a big victory.”
Windy City Times contacted CPS for this story, but did not get a response before the newspaper went to press.