Oak Park Unified School District is implementing new Gender and Diversity Counseling Lessons in elementary schools starting in the fall of the 2019-20 school year.
OPUSD will be the first district in the surrounding area to provide gender diversity lessons at the elementary level.
According to Red Oak Elementary School counselor Holly Baxter, inclusion and acceptance of diversity aids in the creation of a more positive school climate.
“In OPUSD, we affirm and support the rights of all individuals on the gender spectrum and educate students with diverse gender expressions every day,” Baxter said.
According to a study published by the Human Rights Campaign in 2019, 28% of LGBTQ students report being threatened with physical violence at school, and 50% of students report being teased or bullied for a difference in gender of sexual identity.
According to Baxter, these gender and diversity counseling lessons can help decrease bullying for not just LGBTQ students, but all students.
“Research shows that students who feel supported at school have lower rates of mental health concerns, suicidality, or at-risk behaviors, and that education and the modeling of acceptance by supportive adults decreases bullying and harassment,” Baxter said.
Each elementary school classroom is currently visited once a month for a lesson on a social-emotional topic, and the gender and diversity lessons will be held in addition to the regular meetings.
“Most of these lessons begin with the sharing of a book, after which the students are led through a discussion of the topics presented in the book, and the lesson finishes with a shared activity,” Baxter said.
In addition, there will be a parent education component, where parents will receive information at the beginning of the school year, as well as more of an understanding of gender diversity and the lessons OPUSD is giving.
According to Oak Hills Elementary School Principal Erik Warren, Oak Park elementary school counselors work hard to educate students about gender diversity and other important topics.
“Our school counselors have played an important role in including classroom lessons at every grade on a variety of topics. Diversity and inclusion are important themes, and our work on gender diversity is a part of that,” Warren said.