CUMBERLAND — Try to imagine the feeling of the world reinforcing that you’re not who you know yourself to be.
Evan West asked members of the Allegany County Public Schools Board of Education to put themselves in that position at Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
West, a parent of a son who graduated from ACPS in 2011, and a daughter who attended Washington Middle and Fort Hill High schools, talked of the school system’s lack of a clear policy to meet the needs of trans and nonbinary students.
“My daughter is both on the autism spectrum, and transgender,” he said.
“We homeschool my daughter now because the challenges she faced in the school system were too severe,” West said. “Her situation was not the fault of any ACPS staff member.”
The school system’s current policy is not clear on how administrators should handle students that are not safe to be “outed to their parents,” he said.
“Trans and nonbinary people are much more likely than the general (population) to experience violence of all types,” West said.
ACPS and the BOE are responsible for making sure all students are safe, he said, and added the school system should draft a policy that adheres to new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX with respect to trans and nonbinary students.
“I wouldn’t feel safe sending my daughter back to Allegany County Public Schools without such a policy,” West said.
Jacqie McKenzie, organizer of Cumberland Pride, co-organizer of Western Maryland United, and member of and advocate for the LGBTQ community, also approached the BOE to discuss the policy.
“Being a kid is hard enough,” she said. “Imagine a child who doesn’t feel accepted or loved in their school, in their home, or both.”
ACPS last revised its policy that pertains to harassment and anti-bullying in 2005, McKenzie said.
“Gender identity and gender expression are two terms that are specifically missing from Allegany County’s policy,” she said. “Washington County updated their policy last August and Garrett County already includes gender identity and gender expression in their policies.”
West and McKenzie brought to light an issue that “sadly has been sort of pushed aside,” BOE member Deb Frank said.
“I would like our school system to be proactive instead of reactionary,” she said. “I don’t want this county to be the one that runs afraid of addressing a really important significant issue.”
BOE member Tammy Fraley said she asked in April for the policy to be reviewed.
“It’s on the list,” she said.
In other ACPS news:
• Brooklyne Noel was introduced as the new student member of the board.
• The board acknowledged nearly 60 retirees from the school system that ranged in periods of service from 12 to 43 years, and whose positions included teachers and bus drivers.