Prism Youth Community, a Bloomington group that provides a supportive environment for LGBT youth, had the discussion Tuesday at Bloomington High School South to educate community members about creating a supportive environment for LGBT youth in schools.
Ritz began the event by introducing herself and her work. She stressed the Department of Education’s focus on equity and high-quality education in schools.
Ritz said the Department of Education is working on a template for school improvement that it can apply to all Indiana schools. The template would allow schools to determine what problems they face.
“We need to see the needs of the schools in order to address them,” Ritz said.
Forums like the one at Bloomington South should be happening everywhere to make sure community members are talking about the needs of students, Ritz said.
Students on the panel attended Bloomington South, Bloomington High School North, Ivy Tech Community College, and the Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship. Each student had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience about their experiences in schools and the support they have or have not received.
Many of the students shared stories about the supportive teachers and guidance counselors in their schools.
Bloomington South freshman Becca, who asked that only her first name be used, said the little things her teachers do make a more inclusive environment. On the first day of school, one of her teachers said disrespectful comments would not be tolerated, including those regarding sexual preference. That meant a lot to Becca.
“Counselors play a very important role in bullying prevention,” Ritz said. She described a policy made at the state level that requires schools to report bullying incidents annually and train school employees to handle specific situations.
Students also addressed the need for gender-neutral bathrooms in their high schools. Students who ask counselors or administrators which bathroom they should use are often offered the nurse’s bathroom. However, the students agreed most of the time this is inconvenient for students trying to attend class on time.
“The schools should be working with that to make sure that gets resolved,” Ritz said.
Prism Youth Program Director Laura Ingram said some schools have transformed faculty restrooms into gender-neutral bathrooms for anybody to use.
Students said they are usually offered only temporary solutions, but they also said more kids come into school every year facing these problems.
“It’s not just one person at one school,” Becca said. “It’s kids at every single school who just want to be comfortable and safe.”