Study: Schools need more data on LGBT students

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

A study released Sunday urges lawmakers to collect more data about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students to protect them from bullying and unfair discipline at school.

Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu said his department will begin processing and evaluating complaints Tuesday after the panel voted Monday that current sex discrimination protections should apply to cases based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report, published by the Equity Project at Indiana University, notes that LGBT students are more likely to experience harassment and expulsion than their peers and that collecting more information may help schools prevent those problems.

The report found that LGBT students “remain largely outside the bounds of available data on education and schooling.”

“The absence of consistent sources of data that include SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) and its intersections with school bullying and discipline makes it impossible to understand the extent of the problem or generate approaches for remediation,” the report said.

The “Documenting Disparities for LGBT Students” report suggests two federal surveys administered anonymously by school districts could be modified to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Russell J. Skiba, director of the Equity Project, said the absence of data makes it impossible to gauge whether the policy changes meant to help LGBT youth are working.

“We were immediately struck by the fact that there is very little concrete data being collected,” Skiba said in a statement.

The report also urges Congress to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced last year to prohibit public schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is currently no federal non-discrimination protection for LGBT students.

Without federal protection, LGBT students, a news release on the report found, are deprived “of equal educational opportunity.

“School systems are not required to take a more active role in preventing discrimination,” the release said Sunday. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have moved on their own to prohibit bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity given the federal inaction.

The Equity Project is part of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University and “works to provide evidence-based information specific to issues of school discipline, school violence, special education and equality of educational opportunity for all students,” the news release said.

The LGBT debate recently came into the spotlight in Lansing after the Michigan Department of Education proposed that public schools adopt transgender-friendly policies.

Those policies would include addressing transgender students by their chosen names and corresponding “he” or “she” pronouns, allowing them to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their stated gender identity and letting them participate in corresponding sports programs.

The Equity Project report concluded that collecting data based on sexual orientation and gender identity would be essential to resolving inequities in the education system. It points out that LGBT disparities should be given the same attention as race.

“When we fail to ask questions about youths’ sexual orientation and gender identity, we fail to understand, support and protect all students from discrimination in schools,” the report said.