One of the stories circulating at the moment regarding bullying in school is about mother Chelisa Grimes, who gave her son, Darnell "Dynasty" Young, a stun gun to take to his high school in Indianapolis, Ind., when the bullying he suffered as an LGBT student would not let up. She told CNN this past weekend that while she doesn't "promote violence," she had no other choice.
Darnell, who was expelled for the incident, had been bullied relentlessly for years before his mother gave him the stun gun. According to the student himself, "It never got better. It always got worse." His grades were negatively affected, as was his behavior both in and out of school.
Sadly, instead of helping the problem, Darnell's principal at Arsenal Tech High School, Larry Yarrell, told the Indy Star that the way Darnell dressed was attracting the negative attention of his peers. Yarrell said, "If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they're going to say whatever it is that they want to say. Because you want to be different and because you choose to wear female apparel, it may happen."
This is just one example of LGBT students and their parents feeling the need to find a solution to bullying when a solution is not being offered by public school administrations. While bringing a weapon to school should never be the answer, situations like Darnell's are not uncommon and are further proof as to why schools like the Harvey Milk High School in New York City and Q High in Phoenix, Ariz. are popping up, presenting alternatives to educational arenas that routinely lack the capability and/or desire to help their LGBT and questioning students, among other bullied groups, and educate all of their students about acceptance.
I wrote a blog last week on self-segregation in LGBT-specific schools and posed a few questions, namely whether the schools that have been and continue to be formed as safe havens for LGBT students are a form of a "separate-but-equal mentality" that has historically been discriminatory. The responses were mixed, many believing that separate is never equal but that these types of schools might be necessary until better anti-bullying curriculum and programming can be established.
Many of the school options available for LGBT students, questioning students, those with LGBT parents, and other bullied factions offer last resorts, interim programs, and extracurricular programs that bridge public-school experiences and help the students before or after school or over the summer. Many cater to high-school dropouts who are being reintroduced to education in order to attain their diploma.
Harvey Milk High School is one such institution and has been available for students to transfer to since 2003, after at least one year at a traditional high school. According to their mission, "The school seeks to provide a challenging academic program with all the necessary support systems to foster the development of an individual's character, self-respect and ability to succeed in a diverse community."
One New York City school official told me, "Harvey Milk High School did not start out as a high school. It was created in 1985 as a program to provide additional support for students ... [It] was created as one of many transfer schools for students who feel a traditional high school is just not the right fit."
Considering that part of the Harvey Milk High School mission is "to establish and promote a community of successful, independent learners by creating a safe educational environment for all young people," it is no wonder that the school offers other services for their students, according to the school official, including:
Hetrick Martin Institute [HMI] Supportive Services Department counselors conduct individual counseling and group counseling after school hours. The school has a partnership with [HMI]. The school's collaboration with [HMI] provides extraordinarily rich resources to students, including ongoing counseling, academic enrichment, and college guidance.
In order to ensure that all teachers are ready and able to meet the needs of the school's population, HMI provides ongoing professional development, including sensitivity training for all staff at the school. In addition, Institute staff social workers partner with teachers as "buddy advisories" to guide students in their social-emotional growth.
When pressed on the question of whether specialized schools for LGBT youth and other bullied groups are necessary, this school official stipulated, "These are not specialized highs schools. They are alternatives to the traditional high schools. These transfer high schools offer students more choices."
Taking a closer look at the schools that have been labeled "LGBT-specific" actually shows strategies similar to those of Harvey Milk.
The Alliance School, a public charter middle and high school in Milwaukee, Wis., is known for being a safety net for LGBT students, for example, but their mission is not sexuality-specific. It states: "The mission of The Alliance School is to provide a safe, student-centered, and academically challenging environment to meet the needs of all students." The first line of their Vision, however, is sexuality-inclusive, reading: "a safe environment where students are treated fairly regardless of sexuality, ability, appearance, or beliefs."
Along with a regular curriculum, Alliance has outreach programs for their students, as well, many of which incorporate the arts and public service.
Q High in Phoenix is meant for LGBT students, but straight youth are enrolled there, as well. Students spend roughly five hours a day in the classroom, paired with online course material needed to graduate completed via the Arizona Virtual Academy.
Kado Stewart, program director at One-N-Ten (the group that operates Q High), was quoted by KSDK.com saying:
About a third of our youth have dropped out of high school, so we have dropouts, and we have about a third who are homeless or have been homeless ... My ultimate goal is that bullying and dislike and hatred for gay and lesbian youth stops, and there's no need for this school ... The reason we have this school is because there's a need ... I think it's quite amazing that this kind of school is open for kids ... I wish it would have been here a long time ago.
Perhaps having these alternatives is needed for this particular moment in time, for students like Darnell and others who have found no other recourse.
Being that there are plenty of young students who enter such programs after suffering immensely at the hands of peers in more traditional schools, one thing is for sure: Education on tolerance and acceptance is of utmost importance and necessity nationwide, if not beyond.