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School board moves forward with some Title IX recommendations, puts others on hold

After a summer of meetings, the Carroll County Public Schools system continues to move forward with updating Title IX-related policies.

Board of Education members agreed in a meeting Wednesday night to accept a county committee's recommendations for policy updates dealing with bullying, harassment, intimidation, discrimination or hazing; equal opportunity and nondiscrimination; sexual harassment; and student dress code.

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In regard to gender identity and use of school facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms, the board agreed to hold off on making changes until decisions in the courts have been made. A case centered on a Virginia school system's policies on gender and facility use will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall.

"I would prefer to wait until we have some settled case law," Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said.

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These changes in regulations come after two U.S. departments released a letter in the spring. In May, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education released what has now been referred to as the "Dear Colleague" letter. The letter outlined what the two departments termed "significant guidance" for public schools to allow students to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity or risk losing federal funding.

Guthrie reached out to the State Department of Education after the letter's release asking for guidance, but the department response mirrored the federal organization's recommendations.

Alex Henderson, 20, speaks to the Carroll County School Board on Wednesday September 14, 2016.
Alex Henderson, 20, speaks to the Carroll County School Board on Wednesday September 14, 2016. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

And so in June, Guthrie called for the creation of a committee to spend the summer reviewing policies in order to report back to the board. The committee, which included more than 70 people, spent three months looking at school policies and how those conform to Title IX sex discrimination law.

Board members were in agreement Wednesday that changes in policy were of upmost importance to make sure all students feel safe in the school system.

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"I think the message from this board is we want everyone to feel comfortable in their school environment," board member Jennifer Seidel said.

Recommendations detailed

The committee — split into six subcommittees and made up of parents, teachers, students, administrators and community members — brought its list of recommendations to the committee head, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steve Johnson, in August.

The subcommittees, by topic, dealt with the following: restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms; overnight field trips, performing arts uniforms, and career and technology education uniforms; student dress codes, graduation traditions, proms and school dances; student records, names and pronouns; athletics and team locker rooms, and athletic handbooks; and general policies.

Recommendations revolved around gender neutrality for dress codes and honoring gender identity in multiple areas.

First and foremost, the committee recommended treating a student consistent with the student's gender identity, once the school is notified.

But, according to the committee guidelines, there will be no requirement of "legal documentation, medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity."

The student and family or guardian would be required to have a conference with the administration and the school counselor in order to support the student and the family; provide information about community resources; discuss school policies related to the protection of student privacy, student records, the use of school facilities, student activities and athletics, and bullying and harassment; make decisions regarding the student's preferred name and pronouns; consider strategies to forge positive relationships; and answer any additional questions, according to the recommendations.

The committee suggested getting rid of any gender-specific language not only in the daily dress code, but in other areas, such as graduations, performances and the like. Committee members recommended ending the use of different-colored robes at graduation based on gender.

With these sections moving forward, school board member Devon Rothschild stressed the importance of staff education on these matters.

"I just want to make sure the staff is well-versed in this area," she said.

A call for progress

Wednesday's meeting brought out community members and former CCPS students, who spoke of their experiences as members of the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] community.

"You do have amazing teachers and you do have amazing staff," said Alex Henderson, 20, of Westminster.

The future of Title IX regulation implementation — specifically around bathroom and locker room use — could be put on hold despite a summer spent planning for possible changes.

However, there were times when he had to use bathrooms and locker rooms that didn't match his gender identity.

"[These recommendations are] very, very important because as a transgender student, I was never safe in the spaces I would want to be in," Henderson said.

As a transgender student, Henderson said, he was able to come out but had friends who didn't feel safe doing so in Carroll schools. This is why these types of policies are important for students, he added.

That's a goal members of the board agreed with.

Board President Jim Doolan said that as elected officials, it is their job to step up and protect those who they represent. And they also represent the students, he said.

"I have no problem supporting any of this to do what's best for all kids," Doolan said.

Even still, decisions dealing with facility use and structural changes will wait.

When it came to bathroom and locker room use, the committee called for allowing students to use facilities that coincide with their gender identity. In addition, members recommended including privacy areas that would be accessible to any student who wanted it.

The committee also made recommendations on gender identity with respect to locker room use for sports teams and other uses, as well as overnight trips. For rooming during overnight trips, a student who identifies as transgender would have the opportunity to room with others according to their gender identity. But the committee recommended that efforts be made to accommodate any student who desires greater privacy.

These areas are the ones Guthrie has asked the board to hold off on voting on, until legal battles in Virginia have been figured out. There is a difference between law and guideline, he said.

Changes in the form of single-colored robes at graduation, stalls around urinals and privacy areas in locker rooms could be coming to Carroll County Public Schools.

In April, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy that came down from the federal government and ruled in favor of the transgender student, meaning the school must allow the student to use the bathroom he identifies with.

But, on Aug. 3, the Supreme Court granted the Virginia school board's emergency request to temporarily "stay the mandate" of the 4th Circuit until the school board can file an appeal when the court returns, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The board did discuss wanting to see what it would cost to make any facility changes to add privacy areas, in order to be prepared if the courts decide in favor of the Virginia student.

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410-857-7862

Twitter.com/EmilyChappell13

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