A LGBTQ Pride flag is seen in front of the State Capitol Building in Hartford during the daytime.
A rainbow flag is placed at the Connecticut State Capitol. LGBTQ Pride Month is celebrated in the month of June. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Connecticut is set to open the state’s first school for LGBTQ+ students and allies. PROUD Academy will open in New Haven next fall — making it one of only a handful of these types of schools nationwide.

Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, Patty Nicolari, the founder and director of PROUD Academy, said there’s an overwhelming need for an LGBTQ+ school, so kids can be who they are and have a safe space to learn without fearing for their safety.

“We have a sense of urgency,” Nicolari said. “Students aren’t feeling safe in their schools even though we’re a safe harbor state. I see that parents are pulling their children to home school them.”

Nicolari was inspired to open PROUD Academy after experiencing harassment firsthand as a teacher and being in school environments where she did not feel safe to “come out.” She wanted to open a school focused on creating an affirming learning atmosphere for all students.

The U.S Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) launched an investigation into bullying at schools in Farmington, Conn. The probe followed several complaints made by parents who said the school district didn’t do enough to stop LGBTQ bullying.

Melissa Combs is one of the parents who filed a complaint.

“In these hostile school environments kids are not learning,” Combs said. “It’s not possible for students to learn when they are existing in a constant state of fight or flight. A school like PROUD Academy removes that component and students can just go back to being students.”

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Kathy Greider’s office confirmed the district is working through the complaint with OCR in a statement, and cited district policies and efforts around equity and inclusion. The statement also notes that “the district has a different perspective on the factual allegations” in the complaint, but that “we respect the process and will be working with OCR to assist them in their review of these issues.”

Nicolari said her dream for PROUD Academy is to take any student who needs them.

Proud Academy’s tuition is expected to be between $30,000 and $40,000 annually. Nicolari says they’ll start with grades 7-10 but will add grades 11 and 12 once they become an accredited school.

The school is set to open in September of 2023.

This story was first published on Feb. 16, 2023 by Connecticut Public.