N.Y.C. Schools Fund Program for Homosexuals
The New York City Board of Education has contracted with a private, nonprofit homosexual-rights institute to offer a special academic high-school program geared to homosexual students who, because of harassment in school, have become chronic truants and dropouts.
The program, informally called the Harvey Milk School, is one of 39 ''off-site educational services" provided by the New York City public schools in conjunction with community-based organizations to serve youths who have problems in conventional schools, according to Joseph Mancini, a spokesman for the school board.
Named after the San Francisco city supervisor and homosexual activist who was murdered in 1978, the six-week-old program operates in a Greenwich Village church, enrolling 14 boys and 6 girls.
The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, has the backing of Mayor Edward I. Koch. "As far as the educational component is concerned, the mayor said he supportive of it because it is helping kids stay in school instead of dropping out," said Larry Simonberg, a spokesman for Mr. Koch.
'Driven Out of Schools'
The Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, a four-year-old social-service agency, first approached the school board with a request that it supply a teacher for the program last June, according to A. Damien Martin, the institute's executive director.
"The special problem is not the homosexuality, but the harassment the kids have experienced," Mr.3Martin explained. "These kids were already separated; they were driven out of the schools."
The board's professional staff approved the program and appropriated $50,000 to cover the costs of a teacher, curriculum materials, and supervisory assistance, according to Mr. Mancini. Because the board established the off-site-services program several years ago, it was not necessary for all board members to ratify the establishment of the Harvey Milk School.
The institute, which is supported through private donations and through contracts with the New York City Youth Bureau and the New York State Division for Youth, will supply approximately $15,000 to $20,000 for rent and other materials, Mr. Martin said.
The 20 students who are enrolled in the program are dropouts or truants who have received counseling at the institute, which annually offers social services to 800 gay and lesbian youths, their families, and others, according to Mr. Martin.
The institute counsels students who are often "school-phobic" and concerned about the harassment they have experienced at school, according to Mr. Martin. Many of the youths, he said, are "terrified about going to school" and do not perform well academically because they are afraid to draw attention to themselves. Some have been the victims of violence, he said.
The students who are enrolled in the program are "tremendously relieved," Mr. Martin said. "We have kids who haven't been to school for two years, who go every day now, who want to learn."
Students who are interested in enrolling in the program are screened by its teacher and program director, according to Mr. Martin, to ascertain their problems, experiences, and academic needs.
Students with Specific Problems
"We don't want them to come to the school just because they're gay or lesbian," Mr. Martin said. "They have to have specific problems. We're not trying to set up some sort of ghetto."
Mr. Martin also noted that the program would accept students who are not homosexual but who are having problems in other areas and are referred to the program by city social-service agencies. "We do not discriminate against anybody on any grounds," he said.
Mr. Martin said the institute plans to spend the summer searching for new quarters, so the program can enroll more students, and contacting high-school guidance counselors who might know of students who could benefit from it. There are already about 60 names on a waiting list for fall enrollment, the board of education estimates.
Leonard Graff, legal director of National Gay Rights Advocates, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in San Francisco, said the program "probably is legal because every child is entitled to a proper public-school education."
"It's a shame in one sense that the school administration is incapable of providing that kind of education within a mixed setting of the ordinary public-school system," he continued. "On the other hand, at least they've recognized that there is a problem, that there is a great number of such students with special needs."