In September, the current Carroll County Board of Education voted to move forward with some of Title IX updates related to the "Dear Colleague" letter from the federal government sent last spring.
Superintendent Stephen Guthrie announced in June plans to create a committee to look at county schools' practices and policies after the letter from the Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education was released May 13.
The "Dear Colleague" letter outlined what was labeled as "significant guidance" for public schools to allow students to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity or risk losing federal funding.
The committee was composed of more than 70 individuals — from staff to administration to students and community members — and was split into six subcommittees.
The board moved forward with the committee's recommendations for policy updates dealing with bullying, harassment, intimidation, discrimination or hazing; equal opportunity and nondiscrimination; sexual harassment; and student dress code.
But it elected to not move forward with some of the more controversial potential changes until a decision has been made in a case centered on a Virginia school system's policies on gender and facility use. The case is set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court some time in the fall.
Four candidates are running for two seats on the nonpartisan Carroll County Board of Education. They are retired Carroll County schools teacher Marsha Herbert, of Westminster; Howard County teacher Julie Kingsley, of Mount Airy; former Carroll County schools instructional assistant Mary Kowalski, of Westminster; and actuary Donna Sivigny, of Finksburg.
The Times reached out to all four candidates to ask what their stance is on the recommendations, particularly on the issue of students using facilities that correspond to their gender identities.
This is the fourth question in a five-day series leading up to the start of early voting, which runs Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. Election day is Nov. 8. The candidates were asked to respond in 150 words or less.
I started meeting the needs of Title IX in 1973, and continued throughout my entire teaching career. With the use of locker rooms and bathrooms, my students would use the gender neutral bathroom in the health room. I feel the BOE moved appropriately with the "Dear Colleague" letter.
The BOE included a panel of 71 members and six subcommittees to address concerns of the "Dear Colleague" letter. The new gender neutral dress code policy for graduation is a step in the right direction. We must protect the rights of every student.
I believe we need to ensure that every student feels safe coming to school. We want students to be able to come to school focused on learning, and if students do not feel safe it will be hard for them to be successful. We should do whatever we can to ensure a safe, orderly and welcoming environment for all of our students.
We will need to wait for the Supreme Court decision to have a clearer picture of our options as a school system on this issue. However, as I speak to young people, they tell me that the biggest problem that LGBT students face at school is bullying.
I completed my master's project at McDaniel College on the issue of bullying and conducted my research in Carroll County Public Schools. I was surprised and troubled to find that bullying is far too common and disrupts the learning environment for students from a wide variety of backgrounds. In terms of the use of facilities that correspond to gender identity, this is a complex issue that will need to be addressed with a combination of common sense, prudence and sensitivity.
This issue is going to have to be addressed by either Congress or the Supreme Court. Essentially, does the term "sex" in Title IX refer to one's gender or to one's gender identity? The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that gender identity can be used as one's gender.
The CCPS legal department has provided very clear guidance on the issue, and the BOE has taken steps to comply with the state of Maryland's interpretation of Title IX language. If elected to the BOE, I will comply 100 percent with the legal requirements of the state and not put the county or members of the CCPS at risk of legal action.
From a personal perspective, I cannot be more emphatic on my position that the rights of all students need to be taken into account. All students need to feel safe at school. Bullying/harassment/discrimination of any type, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.