Social Justice planners still focusing on 2010 opening

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • November 20, 2008 @ 11:30 AM

Members of the school-design team for a proposed gay friendly school say they are back to square one in their plans to open Social Justice Solidarity High School in fall 2010.

But they are more determined than ever despite heated verbal attacks that have surfaced around them.

“Absolutely. I am fully confident this is going to happen,“ says Bill Greaves, director and community liaison of the city’s Commission on Human Relations’ advisory council on lesbian, gay and transgender issues.

Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before Social Justice High School was to be considered by the Chicago Board of Education as one of five new Renaissance 2010 schools to open in 2010, members of the design team voted unanimously to temporarily pull the proposal.

“The proposal changed so drastically,“ says Paula Gilovich, one of the members of the eight-person design team.

Greaves declines to say specifically which parts of the school proposal has changed, although in the last month the name of the school changed from Social Justice High School, Pride Campus, to Social Justice Solidarity High School. The school is proposed to be open to all city students on a lottery basis, and that it would provide specialized for support for students regardless of race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion or disability.

Gilovich says the design team wants to take the next six months and refine the new school proposal, hold more community meetings and come back to the board again with a planned fall 2010 opening.

“We will continue those efforts, trying to bring in the scope of community input. It’s been part of our process to be very open,“ Gilovich says.

While Gilovich and Greaves say it was the decision of the design team to pull the proposal from yesterday’s board meeting, others claim it was political pressure from the city and within Chicago Public Schools. Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, says several CPS employees who support the creation of Social Justice High School had their jobs threatened. Thayer would not elaborate on whether they were teachers or administrative staffers. 

Even with the Social Justice proposal off the agenda, discussion about the special school took more time -- half an hour -- than anything else on the board’s agenda.

“I feel the political pressure that has been placed on this design team from the mayor’s office on down is an outrage and a disgrace,” says Roger Fraser, also of the Gay Liberation Network and a former teacher.

During the board meeting, Fraser gave examples of gay students being harassed in rest rooms and parking lots where teachers aren’t present.

He says some teachers would sneer during situations like that and would do nothing to stop it.

“This is precisely why this school is needed. It’s need now,” Fraser says.

Others told the board they don’t understand why a separate school is needed to protect students.

“If there are harassment issues, the local school council, the school, should deal with it,“ says Cleveland Baily, a city resident.

Board of Education President Rufus Williams says there should be no bullying at any of its schools, not just at a school like Social Justice that would have a specific focus of providing a safe haven for students of all sexual orientations.

“We want something that is system-wide, that will help all city students, but one pride campus is better than none,” Thayer says. “They need a life raft.”

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.