Daniel Aiello, a social studies teacher, lives in West Babylon.

School is out for the summer, but I have an important homework assignment for my fellow teachers and for our administrators. We need to do some thinking about how to make our schools a safer place for lesbian and gay teens.

Schools on Long Island should be a place where hatred is combated with knowledge and love. On Long Island, there are a few districts brave enough to adapt to changing times. But many districts I have worked with or visited here are behind the times - and the children suffer greatly. Educators need to provide a comfortable learning environment where students of all backgrounds can feel free to express themselves and be who they truly are.

At a minimum, school districts must have a zero-tolerance policy on hate crimes and bullying that is fully enforced without prejudice. This type of policy not only protects gay and lesbian students, but the entire student body, allowing young people the freedom to be unique and truly individual. Strong enforcement will create an atmosphere free of hateful acts and create a more enjoyable place for all students.

In addition, every school district needs to provide counseling for students who are struggling with their identity or might be having troubles at home. This should be done with care and presented not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to work through tough issues students may experience. Counseling centers need to be a place where students feel comfortable and open to expressing their thoughts and feelings, while they work though their struggles.

Health classes should have a unit on homosexuality. Students should be taught that if an individual is gay or lesbian, that doesn't mean he or she will behave differently (effeminate, flamboyant, etc.) nor are gay kids attracted to every student they socialize with. Students have to be taught that these students are just like them.

Most important, schools should allow for a gay-straight alliance in their districts. I've seen this done in schools, and the results are truly inspiring. Students feel more confident, understood and safe. Gay-straight alliances help students feel comfortable with themselves and able to find other students in similar situations. These student organizations also welcome straight students, creating a wonderful level of awareness for the whole student body through educational events and activities.

Students need to have these resources and education - that's how they will mature in thought and as a people. It's every school district's moral responsibility to provide these basic components, not only for gay and lesbian students, but for the entire school population. This is how we as educators help change the world.

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