Montgomery County Public Schools staff members and community advocates are developing the district’s first comprehensive class about LGBTQ history.
The pilot course, an elective, is expected to be rolled out to 10 high schools in the spring of 2021. It will include studies about LGBTQ history, its representation in film and art, current events and sociology, according to Tiferet Ani, the school district staff member spearheading the development of the course.
“I think that we need students that identify as LGBTQ to see themselves and to know their identity is celebrated, not just accepted, and to know people like them have helped shape our history and culture,” said Ani, a social studies instructional specialist in the school district’s central offices. “Then, for all students, those who are allies and those who are not yet allies, it’s important to learn more about the social contributions of the LGBTQ community. It helps build understanding, empathy and … a culture of acceptance that we really need.”
MCPS Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said it is unusual for so many schools to express interest in testing a new class. Typically, a pilot course is unrolled at one or two schools first, she said.
“That shows there will likely be a variety of students in that pilot group,” Navarro said during a meeting of the school board’s Committee on Special Populations on Tuesday morning. “We’re very excited about that.”
The pilot course has not yet received approval from the school board, but it is expected to be presented for consideration by the end of the year.
The course’s curriculum is still being developed, Ani said, and is being guided by teachers and students.
The students have been providing feedback throughout the process, Ani said.
“It’s kind of a unique way we haven’t done before,” Ani said. “They really know what they and their peers need to feel represented and included.”
Uma Fox, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery High School, is helping to develop the curriculum.
In an email Tuesday night, Fox said she hopes it will “set a precedent” for schools across the country to be more inclusive of LGBTQ students.
The class aims to provide students the opportunity to “explore their own identities” and expand their understanding of the LGBTQ community, according to Fox.
“In a county that prides itself for its diversity and equity, it is necessary for students to see themselves and diverse experiences reflected in what they learn daily,” Fox wrote.
The new course comes as MCPS takes a comprehensive, districtwide approach to combating hate and bias. Superintendent Jack Smith is expected to hold a press conference on Thursday to unveil the plan.
In January, Smith said staff members were reviewing data about incidents of hate speech or actions — based on a person’s sexuality, race, religion or age — to determine if there are any trends in the type or location of incidents.
During Tuesday’s school board committee meeting, Greg Edmundson detailed how MCPS has honed its focus on ensuring LGBTQ students feel safe and accepted at school.
He highlighted a review of English, math, science and history curriculum at all levels to find ways to incorporate LGBTQ references, more professional development for teachers and an effort to retrofit schools with gender neutral bathrooms during other construction projects.
In February, 20 MCPS staff members will attend the Time to Thrive conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. The conference will bring together students, educators and activists from across the country to raise awareness and “cultural competency” about LGBTQ students’ experiences.
The school district on April 25, in partnership with the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, will host its second annual LGBTQ forum at Walter Johnson High School, Edmundson said.
“If students have a name or gender they prefer, if that’s not recognized or they’re not valued as that person, it’s deflating,” Edmundson said. “It’s difficult for us to expect our students to sit in a classroom and be fully engaged in the work when they’re battling these challenges.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org