December 2, 2010
>Frederick County High School Senior Shares Her Experiences Advocating for LGBT-Inclusive Anti-bullying Policy
>Guest post by Zoe Blau, senior at Urbana High School, about community efforts to get the local school district to adopt an enumerated anti-bullying policy that specifically mentioned bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, as is required under Maryland law.
Part of the reason that students were uncomfortable was that the school system policies that prohibited bullying and required professional development training about bullying were not LGBTQ-inclusive. Until this September, Frederick County, Maryland’s bullying policy never clearly mentioned if sexual orientation or gender identity/expression were protected categories. This means that the policy was not in compliance with Maryland’s inclusive safe schools law.
Obviously, something had to be done to change this.
In July and August, several high school students got advice from GLSEN staff, and they along with former high school students, parents and teachers met with Board of Education (BOE) members to complain about the bullying situation. The BOE members were moved but insisted that it was not their job, that it was the superintendant’s job to change regulations and handle these situations. Then the group met with the Frederick County Public Schools Coordinator for School Counseling and Student Support, Janet Shipman. They shared their experiences of harassment and asked that the county comply with the law. Janet Shipman was horrified and spoke to the FCPS attorney, who then agreed to make recommendations to the BOE that the bullying policy be updated.
On September 22, a larger group of high school students from three of Frederick County’s high schools, and one teacher, arrived at the Frederick County Board of Education building to speak about changing the bullying policy during the public comment. What we got when we arrived at the building, however, was a huge surprise: that morning, members of the Board of Education already unanimously voted to reform the policy and make it more LGBT-inclusive. The Board of Education members had been saddened by the students’ stories when they met with them, they just did not want to take the lead on a “controversial” issue. However, when the attorney told them they were legally bound to address the issue of anti-LGBTQ bullying, they quickly complied with state law. Without the vital, inclusive state safe schools law, it might have taken years before my county sent a message to schools that anti-LGBT bullying is unacceptable.
We still went into the building for public comment, taking the opportunity to reiterate the importance of a new bullying policy to the board of education members and the audience. We were nothing but pleased and ecstatic about what we had accomplished. However, now this policy needs to be implemented and enforced in schools, and one thing that will help is teacher training. We are continuing to work with Janet Shipman to make this happen.
Local students and parents and teachers can take action to make sure that LGBTQ harassment is addressed in schools. All it took for us was a few meetings where we pushed the school system to do its job, and we hope you will look at your school system policies and do the same.