Safe and Healthy Schools

Overview

Equality Florida Institute
LGBTQ Safe and Healthy Schools Project

In the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, we made two commitments: to provide immediate relief to those injured and to the families of those killed, and to honor the victims with action. We've kept the first promise by raising more than $9 million in relief aid - every penny of which will be distributed to victims’ families and those injured in the attack. But our lasting memorial to the lives lost must be to do the work of uprooting the anti-gay bigotry that led to this massacre. Our Safe and Healthy Schools Program is a pioneering new project to end LGBTQ bias where it begins, in our schools.

Equality Florida’s “Safe and Healthy Schools Project”

The Need:

The need for a statewide Safe and Healthy Schools Program cannot be overstated, and what is at stake for so many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth is nothing short of life or death. Even as we celebrate marriage equality and a number of other key victories, LGBTQ youth continue to face extensive risk factors for:

  • Bullying & physical/sexual assault
  • Homelessness (accounting for as much as 40% of all homeless youth)
  • Human trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Substance abuse & HIV transmission
  • Suicide & homicide

The launch of this groundbreaking program came just weeks after the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which found LGBTQ youth continue to face deeply disturbing and even life threatening challenges.

The CDC research showed that in 2015, more than 40 percent of LGB students have seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent reported having attempted suicide during the past 12 months. Sixty percent of LGB students report having been so sad or hopeless they stopped doing some of their usual activities and more than 1 in 10 reported missing school in the past 30 days due to safety concerns.

The Project:

Equality Florida Institute's Safe and Healthy Schools Program aims to create a culture of inclusion while countering the bullying, harassment, social isolation, and bigotry that dramatically increase risk factors for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) students.

Through this program, we seek to shift the culture so that each of Florida’s 67 school districts will adopt comprehensive, nationally recognized best practices for meeting the needs of LGBTQ students and in doing so build a model that can be replicated nationwide.

During the 2016-17 first school year of our Safe and Healthy Schools Project, we estimated working within 3-5 school districts to help Superintendents and upper level leadership chart a course for institutionalized LGBTQ student, family and staff support. We have shattered this goal and as of spring/summer 2017 are working with 29 school districts across the state, and have delivered LGBTQ sensitivity and best practice professional development training to over 2400 principals, assistant principals as well as school counselors, social workers and school psychologists. During this time we have also met with 12 Superintendents, and will continue our steadfast, groundbreaking work to ensure every student in our school districts are safe, valued, respected and graduate successfully.

This program is different from our previous endeavors on behalf of LGBTQ youth, both in depth and scope. It aims to transform entire school systems by ensuring that the school districts themselves invest in and take full responsibility for meeting the needs of LGBTQ students. We expect that the first school systems we work with will have the requisite training and resources to take full ownership of the program’s outcomes and financial sustainability after three years, allowing Equality Florida Institute to move on to other school districts, with the goal of replicating this program in districts throughout the state.

The Outcomes:

  1. Create a Safe and Healthy Schools Assessment Manual: The manual will be a comprehensive guide outlining nationally recognized best practices, programs, and policies for meeting the needs of LGBTQ students. The Manual will provide a roadmap for districts eager to improve programs and will create urgency for districts unaware or indifferent to the unique needs of LGBTQ students. It will also serve as a measurement tool that ranks school districts on success in targeted areas. This will be the first resource of its kind created in the country and will be made immediately available to school districts throughout Florida.
  2. Assist districts in implementing comprehensive best practices and policies including: 
    • Extensive and ongoing professional development for principals, assistant principals, faculty, school counselors, school nurses, bus drivers and cafeteria staff 
    • Counselors in all elementary, middle and high schools with training on supporting LGBTQ youth and their families.
    • A designated LGBTQ staff liaison at all schools who receives a minimum of 4 days professional development annually on LGBTQ student policies, needs and resources
    • Strong support clubs, such as Gay Straight Alliances
    • Comprehensive LGBTQ policy and procedure manuals
    • Deep partnerships with local LGBTQ youth agencies
    • Highly visible and ongoing support from the Superintendent for LGBTQ students
    • Student mentoring and leadership development 
  3. Convene district wide coalitions of LGBTQ youth serving agencies and establish a regular meeting structure between these groups and top school district officials including the superintendent
  4. Co-produce the All Together Now conference, Florida's annual 2-day training summit for top district officials on the latest best practices for LGBTQ students. Currently nearly half of Florida’s school districts participate.

The Collaborations:

Equality Florida Institute is poised to lead the Safe and Healthy School program’s collaborative efforts. We have been partnering with LGBT youth agencies since we first formed in 1997. We also have a long and successful history of working with school districts throughout Florida to ensure the safe and equal treatment of LGBTQ students. Statewide we have helped more than 20 school districts, home to over 60% of Florida’s students, institute anti-bullying and harassment policies inclusive of LGBTQ students. Together with our school district partners we have established a statewide conference, All Together Now (currently in its 3rd year), which brings together dozens of Florida school districts for peer-to-peer training on best practices regarding LGBTQ students.

Ongoing collaboration between EQFLI, targeted school districts, and local LGBTQ youth agencies will be central to the success of this program. Local LGBTQ youth agencies have played a key role in the design of this program and are positioned to participate in this plan.

We are in constant communication with national partners and progressive school districts across the country, and we share information about what works well and what needs to be fine-tuned. We also participate in professional development and education conferences, such as the Stonewall National Education Project Symposium. This collaborative approach ensures that we are contributing to a dynamic work in progress as we continue to expand the growing list of professionally recognized best practices in support of LGBTQ students.

Staff Qualifications:

De Palazzo brings a passionate spirit and a solid depth and breadth of school-based knowledge to her role as Equality Florida’s new statewide Safe School Director, serving for over 25 years as a classroom teacher, Broward School District LGBTQ Coordinator, national LGBTQ consultant and anti-bias trainer. De helped build exemplary programs and practices in Broward Schools that are considered a national model for school districts looking for guidance.

A native of Florida, De has also worked with hundreds of schools across the U.S., teaching conflict resolution and violence prevention skills to both youth and adults as a senior national trainer with “Community Matters.” As president of “Perspectives Unlimited,” a consultancy group committed to fostering dialogue about diversity and the constructive engagement of conflict, De has delivered peace-building curriculums to youth in Haiti, Guatemala and St. Croix.

De has served as a member of the GLSEN National Board of Directors, and founded GLSEN Fort Lauderdale. She has been a nationally certified anti-bias trainer for GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools K-5 Project, a comprehensive approach to improving school climate in elementary school environments. De co-initiated “Courageous Conversations about Race,” a race and equity-based initiative in Broward County Public Schools and is a national adjunct trainer for “Future Work Institute” a diversity and inclusion workplace consulting organization.

De cofounded the first national LGBTQ conference for and by school district employees in 2011 and also initiated the first Florida LGBTQ school district conference for upper level administrators, general counsels and school board members, now in their fifth year and third years respectively. In 2012 De coordinated the creation of the Emmy-nominated Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) video “Ensuring LGBTQ Health and Safety” and co-wrote and edited BCPS “LGBTQ Critical Support Guide” a model guide pertaining to school safety and well-being for at risk youth, staff, and families.

De holds dual masters degrees in education and conflict resolution. She is respected for her ability to connect easily with school officials and teachers and to create spaces that allow for open, safe dialogue among participants.