Bergen Arts & Science Charter School will test pilot LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum

Bergen Arts & Science Charter School
Bergen Arts & Science Charter School

Statewide implementation of the LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum will occur by September 2020

Bergen Arts & Science Charter School has announced that it will be one of the New Jersey public schools that will test-pilot an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum this fall. Last month, at BASC, a student-created a mural as part of an art project to express LGBT pride. When the school’s landlord, Holy Trinity Church of Hackensack, asked that the LGBT Pride mural be removed controversy followed. LGBT activists were appalled at the Landlords action.

The BASCS student mural "before" the paintover by the school
The BASCS student mural “before” the paintover by the school

Last week, Garden State Equality, a New Jersey LGBT organization met with BASCS students, educators, and administrators. They decided on a “restorative practice dialogue.” The dialogue aired the issues and concluded with a commitment by BASCS to take action. GSE said it will include full implementation of an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum starting later this year. That will be one year before New Jersey’s law requiring the new curriculum goes into effect statewide.

“New Jersey public charter schools often have no other facilities option besides locating their schools in former parochial school buildings,” said Ashley Chiappano, Safe Schools & Community Education Manager for GSE. “We are committed to working together with public charter schools to help them navigate these matters in a way that supports all of their students. Garden State Equality’s top priority is ensuring that LGBTQ students feel safe, affirmed, and supported, and to the school’s credit, the administration unequivocally embraced the positive and constructive solutions proposed by students and educators during our dialogue.

The BASCS student mural "after" the paintover by the school to remove the rainbow
The BASCS student mural “after” the paintover by the school to remove the rainbow

BASCS said in a release that the school is happy to participate in the test-pilot program. They want to be a leader in developing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. “BASCS is committed to affirming LGBTQ student voices and successfully implementing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum,” said the school’s Lead Person, Nihat Guvercin. “For years, BASCS has successfully operated its school in a church building, complying with the requirements of its lease while also respecting the rights of its students. BASCS and the entire iLearn Schools network have proactively built school environments that uplift and give voice to diversity. The curriculum test-pilot will be an opportunity for us to become a leader in this work, to create a model for other public schools.”

“I am so happy real initiatives will be taking place at Bergen Arts & Science Charter School to affirm LGBTQ students,” said Breanna. She is a 16-year-old junior at BASCS. Breanna had painted the mural that caused the controversy.I will be doing everything in my power to work with my peers, educators, and the administration to ensure our goals are implemented with a fair outcome.”

Bergen Arts & Science Charter School poster was posted over the repaint
“I am so happy real initiatives will be taking place at Bergen Arts & Science Charter School to affirm LGBTQ students,” said Breanna, the 16-year-old junior at BASCS. She had put up this poster over the re-painted mural.

Breanna will be a senior at BASCS this fall. “There is still so much work to do on behalf of LGBTQ youth and students,” she said. “And by building a safe and inclusive environment at our school, I am optimistic that no other student will ever have to go through a similar experience again.”

Breanna has accepted a summer internship with GSE. She will be a part of the Teach & Affirm program, which works to build safe schools for LGBT students across New Jersey.

In addition to the school’s participation in the test-pilot curriculum program, BASCS and GSE agreed to other terms. They include an invitation to the Archdiocese of Newark and the school’s landlord, Holy Trinity Church of Hackensack to participate. Conversations will continue through the summer. In addition, the school has agreed to foster communication between administration, faculty, and students on issues related to speech and inclusivity.

In late August, when teachers return to school, GSE will provide professional development training to BASCS faculty on LGBTQ issues and cultural competency. Special emphasis will be on the New Jersey state law requiring the LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum. The new curriculum will be fully implemented statewide in the following school year.

The LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum law passed the New Jersey State Legislature last year. It was signed by Governor Phil Murphy on January 31, 2019. New Jersey is the second state in the nation to pass an LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum law and the first state in the nation to pass a curriculum law to reach beyond social studies and incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum as an interdisciplinary approach across all relevant subjects.

The New Jersey Department of Education will issue broad guidelines before the law’s implementation said GSE. Local school boards are charged with developing and implementing the curriculum. Many districts say that is a costly and burdensome task. So, after the test-pilot program, the GSE curriculum will be offered to local school boards and districts at no cost. “Curriculum coaches” will be available to schools as well said GSE. And the “curriculum coaches” will be provided at no cost to each test-pilot school.

“I applaud Garden State Equality for not only leading this effort, but for your continued work in helping to craft this curriculum,” said Governor Phil Murphy.

GSE said they are partnering with Make It Better for Youth to develop a robust LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. They received a $185,000 grant from the Braitmayer Foundation and PSEG Foundation that over the next two years will help to develop the LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.

GSE said the schools in this coming year pilot program will represent geographic, economic, and racial diversity across New Jersey. They are finalizing a partnership with a New Jersey public university to conduct IRB-approved student and faculty surveys that will take place at the beginning and conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year. The study will measure the efficacy of the curriculum as it relates to improving schools’ LGBTQ-affirming culture and climate.

GSE said as more states look to New Jersey for ideas on how to innovative on LGBTQ equality through policy and programs they intend to provide the curriculum to other states that implement similar laws.