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Moving ahead after sit-in

Students+begin+gathering+for+a+sit-in+during+second+hour+on+Monday+in+the+rotunda.+The+crowd+grew+as+the+day+went+on.
Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

Emily Kruse

Emily Kruse

Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

By Connor Schmaus, Managing Editor

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In the weeks since students filled the rotunda for a sit-in over transphobic comments, school officials are focused on improving communication and education.

Following the Sept. 18 protest of comments made in a GroupMe chat filled with seniors, students and faculty say they hope to use education to prevent harassment and discrimination.

“There’s a desperate need for education in our culture and in our district, specifically concerning LGBTQIA+ areas,” said Randall Frye, co-sponsor of Total Equality Alliance. “There’s a lack of knowledge and a lot of times when there’s an issue of any kind, it’s because of a lack of knowledge. People don’t have the resources or the understanding to even identify what some of this is.”

Immediately following the protest, the district’s Equity Advisory Council met with four students who participated in the sit-in. The students addressed demands, along with their input on what happened. The main concern of the group, other than the discrimination itself, was the lack of immediate recognition of offensive comments, in addition to the general lack of education on LGBTQ+ issues.

“When this occurred, they didn’t feel like they were being heard or that action was being taken soon enough,” said Lindsay Buck, a member of the Equity Advisory Council and a co-sponsor of TEA. “There are people who bully…but ignorance is never an excuse for that.”

Before the protest, Lawrence High had taken steps to better support LGBTQ students. Last year, for example, the school opened an all-genders bathroom. The recent Homecoming nominations process was gender-neutral.

“I think Lawrence High is a great community and a very accepting and embracing community but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues,” assistant principal Mark Preut said. “Some steps have been taken to resolve those issues, make LHS a safer place.”

Although anti-discrimination policies are outlined on the school’s website and in the planner, some believe it relates back to a lack of education.

“As far as the anti-discrimination policy, I’m not sure our students are aware we have one,” Frye said. “I think there’s a real lack of knowledge.”

In response, administrators are planning a student-run panel to confront ongoing issues and to open communication within the school. The panel will consist of members from leadership and equity groups, including TEA, Inter-Tribal Club, Black Student Association and Student Council, along with the sponsors of those organizations. Administrators also want to incorporate outspoken voices involved in the protest.

“The purpose is to open those avenues of communication between administration, faculty and students, to talk about issues — not necessarily the, ‘Hey, this happened yesterday’ immediate kind of things — but a broader context,” Preut said.

The district has also taken action.

The school board this month agreed to recommendations from an LGBTQ+ Task Force, a group created last school year to encourage more accepting policy for schools. Among the recommendations accepted by the school board were:

Address students by their preferred names and pronouns

Provide students access to locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity

Allow students to participate in groups/activities that correspond with their gender identity by avoiding using gender as a characteristic in classroom/school activities

Students who witnessed the protest found some comfort in this situation, saying that it shows a certain strength within the student body.

“I think [the protest] says that we can work through issues,” senior John Ely said.

Preut said LHS is taking additional steps to improve the climate.

“We are also working a little bit with KU to develop some training for staff and students we want to push into classrooms at some point to raise awareness again and to help people understand so that we don’t have people acting out of ignorance, stereotype or bias,” he said.

Moving forward, students who orchestrated the protest want LHS and the district to know their strong intolerance for hate, while maintaining a positive attitude for education in the future.

“We are a school that stands together against bullying of any kind,” sophomore Elliot Bradley said. “We do not tolerate hate or discrimination toward any of our students and I think that is something we’re very proud of as a school and as a community.”

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Moving ahead after sit-in