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Anne Arundel school board discusses policy to strengthen LGBTQ+ student rights, allow them to use preferred bathroom

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education discussed a proposed policy Wednesday that would protect a student’s right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that matches their gender identity, and their right to use school bathrooms that correspond with that identity.

The board made amendments to the proposal Wednesday, and Legislative and Policy Counsel Jeanette Ortiz said a copy of the amended policy will be posted online for public comment ahead of the board’s June 16 meeting.

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A draft of the amended policy posted online shows that language was added to strengthen it. Instead of just a right to use school facilities which align with a person’s gender identity, students will be able to use “safe and non-stigmatizing facilities.”

Instead of a statement that the board supports professional development and training about the diversity of the student body, the board amended the policy to say it supports “meaningful and mandatory” training. And a statement was added to say the system is committed to providing LGBTQ+ students equitable access to a rigorous and inclusive education.

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One line was added to the proposed policy specifying that the board supports the use of gender-inclusive terminology when practicable.

Guidelines from Anne Arundel County Public Schools administration already include gender-affirming rights on both the student and staff level, but a policy approved by the board would be stronger because it couldn’t change with a new superintendent. The proposed policy deals with student behavior and a reference to it would be included in the Student Handbook.

In written comments submitted before the June 2 meeting, a coalition of citizens who support LGBTQ+ students penned a letter to the board suggesting changes and explaining why some students are suffering in school.

“This is due not only to mistreatment by peers but also due to missteps by staff who have not received adequate training. Staff may have good intentions but if they have not received meaningful training that truly prepares them to effectively support and interact with LGBTQ+ students, they are at high risk to intervene in ways that do harm,” the Coalition for LGBTQ+ Students wrote.

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Board Member and Policy Committee Chair Joanna Bache Tobin, of Annapolis, said the proposed policy makes a clear statement to the community and their students.

“Lest there be any question that we are committed to making sure through these mechanisms — ‘equitable access to the educational rigor, inclusive curriculum, resources, and supports that are designed to maximize the student’s academic success and social and emotional well-being’––that our LGBTQ+ students are fully included, again, in those things that all our students should have,” she said.

Board member Corine Frank, of Pasadena, said she appreciates the work done by staff to address a concern brought forward by the community, but said she philosophically disagrees with a policy that protects a specific group, when AACPS’ existing policies cover everyone.

“I feel like by restating that for one group and not another, it actually weakens our current policy. Because we have reinforced it in one place, and if our motto is that all means all, we should not have to restate policy to specify groups,” Frank said. “If you’re not an LGBTQ student, then, do we reinforce those students as well? When does this end?”

In response to the proposed policy, nine former school board members and student representatives, wrote in an opinion column to The Capital that they support the policy. The column states the guidelines that currently exist were established in 2016 as the school system and Board of Education sought to ensure that our transgender students would feel safe, supported and respected at school.

Those guidelines made the school system the first in Maryland to publish official guidelines for students and gender identity, they wrote. All of the letter writers served in 2016 when the initial Guidelines for Transgender Students were released.

“This new policy complements the clear suite of policies that reflect the guiding value of the school system that All Means All – ALL AACPS students must feel this support from the Board of Education to the classroom level,” reads the letter, which was signed by former Board of Education members Julie Hummer, Teresa Birge, Stacy Korbelak, Patti Nalley, Allison Pickard, Debbie Ritchie, Carolyn Williams (a former student member), Solon Webb and former CRASC President Scott Howarth.

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