Welcome to PFLAG Mid-Shore, also known as the Chestertown Chapter. PFLAG is working to make sure that all people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer are not only valued by society, but take pride in and value themselves. We do this through providing peer-to-peer support, educating people on the issues that are important to the community, and advocating for inclusive policies and laws.
EASTON — The Talbot County Board of Education introduced a nondiscrimination policy revision on Wednesday, Feb. 21, to satisfy a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
However, the proposed revision didn’t sit well with members of the LGBT community, and that revision is now getting a do-over.
The revision of Policy 1.2 grew out of a Methods of Compliance Review of the school district’s 2016-2017 school year and a visit on Dec. 11, 2017. While the review was mostly favorable, OCR recommended consistent nondiscrimination policy statements on all documents and communication platforms.
Before the policy revision came up for the first of three readings, three people spoke to the school board during the public comment section of the agenda.
“PFLAG Mid-Shore has significant concerns regarding the deletion of gender and sexual orientation as groups that are identified as protected from discrimination in Talbot County Public Schools,” Claire Hansen said.
Hansen is president of PFLAG Mid-Shore chapter which “advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer LGBTQ students on federal, state and local legislation, regulations and school district policies,” she told the school board. PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
The school board’s original Policy 1.2 has been revised once since it was adopted in 1993. The 2012 revision states, “The Board will not tolerate nor condone any act of bias, discrimination, insensitivity, or disrespect toward any person on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, religion, socio-economic status or disabling condition.”
At issue is the elimination of certain language in the 2012 revision. The proposed revision states, “The Board does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age or religion in its programs and activities and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designed (sic) youth groups.”
Hansen said, “The language that you are electing to adopt ... is not a step forward; it is a step backwards.”
“It appears that the sexual orientation and gender language are in the existing policy, and that those words are being replaced with sex; that’s what it seems like,” Alan Girard of Easton said. “They do not mean the same thing, and it’s important that people who do have different sexual orientations or genders are a part of the policy.”
Girard offered to work with the board “on language that is going to work.”
“At a minimum, we urge TCPS to reinstate gender and sexual orientation into the nondiscrimination policy so that everyone can learn, grow and succeed in a community that is safe and free of discrimination,” Hansen said.
Lynne Duncan, assistant superintendent for administrative and support services, read the proposed policy during new business.
Duncan recommended sending the policy to second reader “taking into consideration the comments and concerns that were expressed this evening and also in consultation with our attorney.”
Michael Garman, president of the school board, asked, “Was this language that was recommended by the state?”
“It’s directly from Office of Civil Rights,” Duncan said.
During the public comment segment, Lauren Hartman, whose children attend Easton Elementary School, said she “loved (the school) dearly, but my wife and I are really worried about this nondiscrimination policy because you’re taking our family out this school district by eliminating gender and sexual orientation out of your nondiscrimination policy.”
“My family is a two-mom family, and ... it’s really breaking my heart,” Hartman said. “I really need you to consider the language that you’re using on this nondiscrimination policy to include gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status — to really broaden your ideas of who we want in our community and who we want in our schools, to accept everybody and all of their kids and my family into this community.”
“The (OCR) told us we should be using this language, so we’ll go back and do some research, but that was one of the things we were cited for,” Superintendent Kelly Griffith said.
“So we’ll leave it on first reader,” Garman said.
“We would like to see TCPS create a healthy, safe and welcoming learning environment for all students,” Hansen said. “By eliminating gender and sexual orientation from Policy 1.2, you are creating a more dangerous environment for LGBTQ students, teachers and staff in TCPS.”
Hansen expanded her advice beyond revising Policy 1.2’s wording.
“PFLAG Mid-Shore strongly advises school administrators and the board of education to create and implement comprehensive, inclusive policies and practices to end bullying, harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ students,” she said.
“We ... encourage you to review other regional nondiscrimination policies which include more specific and inclusive language to reinforce and clarify intentions to not discriminate,” Hansen said.