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Creating Safe School Environments for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Questioning Students in Seattle

Print Version [pdf 84K]

Public Health Problem

Students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; who are questioning their sexual identity; or who engage in same-sex relationships face negative school experiences, such as

  • Barriers to participation in school activities.
  • Barriers to academic achievement.
  • Verbal harassment.
  • Increased absenteeism because of the school environment.

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Initiative Description

Seattle Public Schools has implemented a range of activities to support a safe school climate that promotes the success of all students. The approach adopted by Seattle Public Schools

  • Combines district-level policy changes and school-level programs.
  • Is well-known among students and school staff.
  • Is supported by school level programs, including Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), posters, assemblies, special events (e.g., Day of Silence), and other schoolwide activities.

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Evaluation

This evaluation assessed the extent to which these policies and programs impact creation of a safe, welcoming school environment.

  • Data were collected from 107 middle and high school students in GSAs and 92 high school students not involved in GSAs.
  • Interviews were conducted with 8 school principals, 4 district stakeholders, and 17 GSA coordinators.
  • All data were collected during the 2005–2006 school year.

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Findings

Evaluation findings revealed

  • GLBTQ students are the victims of harassment more often than straight students, highlighting the importance of ensuring policies are adopted to promote safe and welcoming school environments for all students, including GLBTQ students.
  • GSAs appear to provide an avenue for students to participate meaningfully at school and to develop positive connections with school, both important protective factors supported by existing research.
  • Principals cited four keys to creating a safe and welcoming environment for GLBTQ youth: having supportive staff members, tapping into outside resources, securing training for staff, and integrating the issues into the school climate.
  • District stakeholders identified six critical components of successful implementation of GLTBQ-related policies and programs: public recognition of the issue, staff support, student involvement, integration of GLBTQ issues into the curriculum, collaboration with community partners, and patience.

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Implications

Seattle Public Schools has demonstrated their commitment to improving the academic experiences of all students by actively supporting safe and welcoming school environments. This evaluation provides insight into how youth experience their school environment, how the policies and programs support GLBTQ youth at the school level, and what has contributed to the sustainability of these efforts over time.

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Sample Tools and Instruments

This section contains selected data collection tools and instruments that were used in this project. These sample instruments are posted as examples to guide development of instruments for other projects, but are not intended to be used in their current form, as they have been tailored to address specific evaluation questions of interest to Seattle Public Schools.

Student Survey [doc 162K]
Questionnaire for 6th- through 12th-grade students to assess school safety; experiences at school related to violence, safety, harassment, and bullying; and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) people at school.

GSA Coordinator Survey [doc 81K]
Questionnaire for coordinators of Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) groups to assess school activities; experiences at school related to violence, safety, harassment, and bullying; and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) people at school.

Interview Guides
Questionnaires to assess the types of policies, procedures and programs (including those specifically designed to support GLBTQ youth, staff, and families) schools have in place or are considering regarding the safety of the school environment.

Student Focus Group Guide [doc 22K]
Guide for a 30-minute focus group with middle and high school students about their impressions of safety at their school and to understand their reactions to harassment and bullying at school.

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For More Information

Additional information about this applied evaluation, including the full evaluation report, is available from Seattle Public Schools.

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