In the past year, the Montgomery school system has made a “monumental shift” in its treatment of LGBTQ students, activists say, punctuated by recently released guidelines about student gender identity.
The school system last week released updated guidelines on how to treat and interact with students who do not identify as cisgender with revised gender identity definitions, added language to encourage LGBTQ clubs and possibly most notable, shifted language from phrases like “try” and “should” to “must” and “required” when discussing the rights of nonbinary or transgender students, according to Mark Eckstein, chair of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations’ LGBTQ subcommittee.
“I think a lot of the revisions are a continuum of growth and a process over the years from MCPS that started with being tolerant and being nice to transgender individuals, and then moved more toward a welcoming environment,” Eckstein said. “Then it was, ‘Of course we’re going to welcome transgender students,’ and now they understand there’s a need to really affirm these students. To that end, these guidelines have started to really show how these students can be affirmed, celebrated and be a typical part of the school experience.”
While some people argue guidelines aren’t effective because they don’t mandate specific actions, Eckstein said it is a good starting point and guidelines are easier to change and update.
Earlier this year, the Montgomery school system hosted its first-ever forum about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual issues and in June the Board of Education passed a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month.
“MCPS is on the cutting edge of this kind of stuff,” Eckstein said. “We’ve worked with the superintendent to make sure his ‘all means all’ is not just a slogan, but really pertains to LGBTQ students, too. Before it was like a deer in headlights … we knew we needed to talk about it but didn’t know how, and now we’ve moved beyond that.”
The guidelines, first implemented in 2014 and updated periodically since, outline procedures for privacy of transgender students’ records, dress code, school records, bullying and gender-separated activity areas like locker rooms.
The guidelines also say schools will provide transgender or nonconforming students passes to a “safe zone,” like a counselor’s office or specific teacher’s classroom, when the student feels unsafe or uncomfortable and student-athletes will be permitted to participate in extra-curricular activities based on their asserted gender identity.
A section of the guidelines request teachers leave student rosters with the preferred names of students for substitute teachers and say group activities should be divided by skill rather than gender to avoid uncomfortable situations for students.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org