This article originally appeared on KUTV. Read it in its entirety here.
(KUTV) — For the first time ever, a sexual orientation question will be added to a national student survey. This is a shift in policy that schools have been reluctant to talk about in the past.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBTQ+ youth are five times more likely to try to kill themselves than their straight peers. Yet, the state does not gather many kinds of public health stats on these students through national surveys.
That might change, starting now.
“I was one of these youth in question, you know, an LGBTQ student navigating our school systems” said Sarah Leetham, who is now finishing her college degree. “I had a supportive family but there are definitely other students that are probably not experiencing that, but we really don’t know until we gather that data.”
And that’s done through a national CDC survey. State health departments must pass along the data collected from individual school districts. The survey does not require LGBTQ+ specific depression-and suicide-related questions be asked but, for the first time ever, the next survey will include a sexual orientation section.
That, coupled with the suicide questions, can be cross-referenced and studied to spot trends in the LGBTQ+ community.
“It will open up some additional data that we have not looked at, nor discussed,” said Terry Shoemaker, an associate director with the Utah School Board Association.
Shoemaker oversees the state’s 41 superintendents. He does not choose which districts participate in the survey and which don’t — that decision is made locally.
School districts can opt out of the survey if they don’t like certain questions, but if a majority of schools don’t participate in the surveys, the state can lose out on federal funding.
Getting districts on board with surveying their students is important, Shoemaker said.
“If we’re going to understand how to better interact, how to better help them, how to better understand their needs, we have to have some data to draw upon,” Shoemaker said.