Monday, November 10, 2008
On November 19, 2008, the Chicago Board of Education seems set to vote on the Social Justice High School-Pride campus, slated to open in the Fall of 2010. According to the Social Justice High School website, the purpose is to:
create a new high school campus to address the needs of the underserved population of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and their allies (LGBTQA youth). Research shows that there are low attendance rates and high drop-out rates among LGBTQA youth, and they struggle with harassment, depression, poor academic achievement, and suicide. Our goal is to provide a school with a safe, affirming, and supportive environment where every student — particularly LGBTQA youth — would develop the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives for themselves and their families and to succeed in their post-secondary pursuits. We envision a succession of graduates attending college or other post-secondary institutions at high rates, becoming transformative and successful members of society who recognize the responsibility to improve their communities and the world. Thus, the Social Justice High School–Pride Campus would improve on current conditions for LGBTQA youth in Chicago’s public schools and would be a national model for best practices in the education of LGBTQA youth.
The Chicago planners reportedly took as their inspiration two other public schools for LGBTQ youth – one in New York and one in Milwaukee.
New York’s Harvey Milk High School began in 1985 as a small institution that provided GED classes primarily to minority students and was operated under the umbrella of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a 25-year-old social service agency serving at-risk LGBTQ teens. In 2003, The Harvey Milk High School joined New York City’s “carnival” of highly specialized military, trade, and other targeted public schools. Soon thereafter, Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz Sr., represented by Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based organization, brought a lawsuit against the school. The suit was settled by slightly amending the purpose of the school to not limits its admission to exclusively to "gay" students.
In Milwaukee, Alliance High School, a public school opened in 2005 advertises itself as “A Milwaukee School where you can be who you are.” It was chartered as a safe space based upon findings of bullying and low academic achievement of LGBTQ youth with a mission statement “to provide a safe, student-centered, and academically challenging environment to meet the needs of all students.” Interestingly, this school operates year-round, and in a “college-like atmosphere”, the students can select their courses to fit preference, educational objectives, and interest, and is one of several other targeted-learning schools in the Milwaukee area. There are no reported lawsuits.
For classroom (or exam) use, the Pride Campus provides an excellent equal protection problem. It illustrates the “anomalous result” that Justice Stevens described in his dissenting opinion in Adarand when the "tiers of strict scrutiny" meet the Court's affirmative action jurisprudence. It also highlights the issue of “animus” for the type of heightened rational basis review the Court employed in Romer v. Evans for a sexual orientation classification: In Pride Campus, the government interest is positive rather than a desire to harm a politically unpopular group. Additionally, it poses the question of the equal protection classification, given the inclusion of “allies.”
RR (thanks to Laura Mott for research assistance).