When it comes to leading the way in supporting transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students, Oak Park and River Forest High School Prevention and Wellness Coordinator Ginger Colamussi is playing a key role on a statewide level. Recently, she and the 25 other members appointed by Governor JB Pritzker to the new Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force have delivered a comprehensive report detailing recommended procedures and best practices for K-12 schools throughout Illinois.
"Both research and individual student experiences confirm that when students can be fully engaged at school as their authentic selves, rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors decrease, rates of depression and anxiety decrease, rates of school avoidance and absenteeism decrease, and rates of academic success increase,” Colamussi said. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with LGBTQ+ experts and innovative school professionals from across the state to produce this report.”
The 50-page report details legal protections, recommended school district policies and procedures, and best practices in a variety of areas including discrimination, harassment, and bullying; names, pronouns, and school records; dress codes; overnight school trips; use of facilities; sports, clubs, and events, and more.
“I applaud the hard work of the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force and take their recommendations to heart, especially since the federal government has failed to give school leaders guidance,” Governor Pritzker said in a press release. “I encourage schools around the state to use these principles and best practices as they work to make their learning environments more inclusive.”
OPRF is leading the way in this work. In May 2018, the District 200 Board of Education voted to approve a revised version of its Equal Educational Opportunities policy, which included specific language around the treatment and support of students consistent with their gender identity. OPRF administrators also developed procedures to address issues such as names and pronouns, restroom and locker room usage, overnight school trips, and more.
OPRF’s A Place For All (APA) club,which Colamussi has co-sponsored since she arrived at OPRF in 2015, is yet another means of providing a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ students and allies.
“In APA, students celebrate their LGBTQ+ identities, raise awareness about topics relevant to the LGBTQ+ community, and advocate for positive changes within the school and community to support LGBTQ+ students and families,” Colamussi said.
According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2017 National School Climate Survey, students with an LGBTQ+-affirming club in their school reported fewer incidents of victimization, an increased number of supportive school staff, and a greater sense of belonging in the school community.
“Our school wouldn't be nearly the same without APA,” OPRF senior Simon Nosek said. “[The club], for me, is a place of warmth where I feel welcome and accepted.”