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The Importance of our Northern Colorado School District Candidate Forums

By the end of November 7th, the Poudre and Thompson School Districts School Boards will each have four, newly elected members. With CDPHE’s 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) indicating discrepancies in the mental health of youth in Larimer County in which LGBTQ+ youth are reporting worse mental health compared to their counterparts, there is great need for School Board members who are responsive to this troubling data and who can ensure that all students thrive in Larimer. That is why Out Boulder County (OBC) and important community partners will be hosting a PSD School Board Candidate Forum on October 16, at Foothills Unitarian and a TSD School Board Candidate Forum on October 19, at Loveland Tap & Tavern. The focus of these forums will be to ask candidates about their positions on various topics that are impactful for all students, especially LGBTQ+ and other historically marginalized youth.

I am the Northern Colorado Community Manager for Out Boulder County, and I offer free trainings to the community on suicide prevention. In one of these trainings, I talk about the importance of giving attention to LGBTQ+ youth, discussing how inclusion, access to language and clothing that affirms their gender identity, and having adults they can trust are suicide prevention for this population. 

I recently attended the Larimer County League of Women Voters’ forum for PSD School Board candidates, asked a question using HKCS data on LGBTQ+ youth, and inquired about how candidates plan to address student mental health. Some responses to my question included focusing on core subject areas and questioning the appropriateness of discussing mental health, gender, and sexuality in schools, with explanations given regarding the expanding role of teachers, while others questioned the scope of school curriculum. Though teachers are overworked, my response to these stances is that Larimer County schools and their Boards need to address disparities of mental health and the unique outcomes for our historically marginalized students. My reasoning– schools must serve youth and our youth who are struggling the most.

School is no longer a place strictly for instruction; it is a place that necessarily clothes, feeds, provides mental health services to our students, and is where they spend a great deal of their young lives. To not approach education as this important safety net for children is to misunderstand the current function of schools, and rolling back this safety net risks harming our youth more. 

Healthy Kids estimates that less than 2% of white Larimer High School students were treated badly or unfairly in school because of their race or ethnicity in the past 12 months, with an estimate of just over a tenth to nearly a fourth of students of color reporting they were treated badly or unfairly, with respect to race and ethnicity. Additionally, the survey reports that a majority of cisgender and straight Larimer High School students agree or strongly agree that they feel like they belong at school, but this is not the case for LGBTQ+ students by that same measure. Furthermore, no demographic category exceeded a 72% response rate agreeing that they belong at school. This is a ‘both and’ scenario– both historically marginalized students and their counterparts deserve school systems that support their mental health needs and it is important to address the unique mental health needs of our marginalized students, and it is the School Board’s responsibility to provide this. Otherwise, how much more troubling data do we need to see on our historically marginalized students in order to say “we are here to serve you”?


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