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Howard County Rainbow Conference, celebrating LGBTQ community, preparing for virtual event in May | EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

One year after its inaugural event, the leaders of the Howard County Rainbow Conference are gearing up for another virtual gathering to celebrate the LGBTQ community and raise awareness.

The free conference will be held online from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 15 and consist of 26 sessions. Attendees can sign up online for one or several sessions.

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Danielle DuPuis, the Rainbow Conference’s coordinator, said the goal of the event is to raise visibility and awareness of LGBTQ issues.

“I’m very excited,” said DuPuis, who is also a media specialist and video production teacher at Hammond High School. “I’m just really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people who are willing to share their knowledge with others. We also have so many people who are willing to learn, no matter the stage of life they’re in or what their knowledge is of the LGBTQ+ community.”

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The event, DuPuis said, is for anyone to attend, not just LGBTQ students and staff.

“This is for both people in the LGBTQ+ community and for people in the community who want to learn how to be better allies,” she said. “Our goal is to make everyone feel comfortable and to make them feel part of the day.”

Last year, the Rainbow Conference was originally going to be an in-person event at Hammond High, but once the coronavirus pandemic shuttered school buildings in March, the conference shifted to a virtual format.

The conference has eight time slots throughout the morning and afternoon with an average of about four sessions per hour, an increase from the two sessions per time slot during last year’s conference. The sessions range in topic, from LGBTQ history to support for transgender students to LGBTQ law and policy in Maryland.

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Mikah Meyer, an American travel journalist and LGBTQ rights advocate, is the conference’s keynote speaker. Other presenters include transgender activist Mimi Lemay, Maryland House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke and Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff, a Hammond High alumnus.

Moving forward, DuPuis plans for the conference to be biennial.

Registration for the free Howard County Rainbow Conference ends May 12. To register, go to sites.google.com/hcpss.org/hcpssrainbowconference.

School resource officer vote moved to May 11

The Howard County Board of Education has once again pushed back its vote on the school resource officer program.

Originally set for Thursday, the board vote on the agreement between the school system and the county police department is now scheduled for May 11.

The delay is one of several times the board has postponed the vote since last September, when student member Zach Koung’s original motion to remove the program failed but sparked a monthslong local debate about whether police should be in schools.

Announced April 22, the delay came one day after Howard County Executive Calvin Ball put his support behind keeping — but changing — the school resource officer, program. Ball, who does not have decision-making authority on the existence of the SRO program, backed the changes to the program in the revised agreement, including body-worn cameras and removing police from middle schools.

His support for the program could sway some of the board’s members on the Board of Education, which has been evenly divided on the topic.

Schools ask parents to commit to Digital Education Center

Earlier this month, the school system sent out a survey to parents to see how many are interested in the plan for a Digital Education Center.

The results came back with about 1,600 families expressing interest.

Now, the school system is asking parents for their official commitments for the full-time online option. To commit, parents should log into their Connect Synergy account, select “more options” from the left panel, click the commitment form from the middle of the page and fill it out by at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The commitment is for the entire 2021-22 academic year.

The Digital Education Center, which is still subject to budgetary approval, is a virtual learning program that would be in place regardless of the status of the pandemic.. School system officials have said the program could look different for every student in it, with some students taking all of their classes in the center — which requires its own staff, administration and learning tools — while others also would take in-person classes at their assigned school.

In the proposed plan, courses would be offered during the fall, spring and summer semesters and could be offered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The center would cost $6.2 million in the fiscal 2022 budget.

In Ball’s budget, which he released last week, the school system would receive $12.5 million more than last fiscal year but $37.6 million less than what the school board requested. With the district possibly receiving less than it requested, the initiative could be removed from the budget before final adoption later this spring.

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