A policy being designed to create a welcoming environment for transgender students in Frederick County Public Schools is receiving overwhelming support.
Parents, students and friends of the transgender community attended Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting to express support for the policy, which went to the board for first reading at a worksession Wednesday afternoon. Those who attended the meeting implored the board to pass the policy as soon as possible.
“The first draft of the policy is exactly what trans students need,” said James Van Kuilenburg, a transgender student at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School.
The policy as written allows transgender students to use a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. It also gives any student who is uncomfortable for any reason using a gender-segregated bathroom the option to use a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative — such as privacy curtains, provisions to use private restrooms or office restrooms, or a separate changing schedule in locker rooms.
The policy also allows transgender students to participate in sports that align with their gender identity. So, a transgender girl could play girls soccer, and a transgender boy could play baseball. The policy also says a student is not required to disclose his or her gender identity.
Board member April Miller said there are potential safety issues with this policy, and worried that if a transgender girl played girls soccer, it could result in injuries such as concussions to other girls.
The policy currently says schools cannot have gender-based dress codes for special events such as graduation or prom. In the worksession, board Vice President Liz Barrett said if schools have certain traditions for graduation, such as wearing two different-colored robes, she would suggest letting students choose which robe they want to wear.
“You don’t have a 50-50 mix of boys and girls anyway, so it doesn’t need to be 50-50, but it would probably be split pretty close,” Barrett said.
Barrett also suggested offering options of attire that is acceptable for both boys and girls. This would read as an overarching policy, saying something like “long slacks, skirts, dresses and collared shirts are all good options,” Barrett said.
One particular point of contention was a section that grants a measure of confidentiality to transgender students who are not out to their parents.
Students are able to go by a desired name in school, according to the policy.
“Transgender and gender nonconforming students have the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide where, when, and with whom to share private information,” the policy currently reads. “The fact that a student may wish to use a different name or pronoun at school, or to disclose their transgender or gender nonconforming status to school staff, does not authorize school staff to disclose a student’s personally identifiable or medical information.”
Board members Miller and Colleen Cusimano both had an issue with the potential of schools keeping a student’s information from parents. A parent would be able to find out if a student was using a different name in school by looking up official records, Barrett said.
“This policy doesn’t give the school the right to hide information from parents,” board member Joy Schaefer said. “It just means if a student says he or she wants to go by a different [name or personal pronoun], the teacher can’t go call the parents and tell them.”
Van Kuilenburg said this policy does a good job protecting transgender students.
“We hope this will serve as an example for the rest of the state,” he said.
Erika Walker, a parent of two LGBT students in the Oakdale school system, echoed the sentiment that this policy encourages inclusiveness.
“I think all of us older folks remember the feeling of being awkward as teens. I know I hated it,” Walker said. “But I never feared using the restroom, or putting clothes on in front of a male when I was obviously a female. I felt safe at school. LGBT kids are not currently feeling this.”
The policy will go back to the board for a second reading in the coming weeks. Board President Brad Young did not give a date for when the policy could go for a vote.