EASTON — The Talbot County Board of Education, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, voted to re-adopt its previous nondiscrimination policy in response to public criticism concerning the board's exclusion of the words "gender" and "gender identity" in its newly written policy.
The recently approved policy, first adopted in 1993 and last amended in 2010, reads in part, "The Board will not tolerate nor condone any act of bias, discrimination, insensitivity, or disrespect toward any person on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, religion, socio-economic status or disabling condition."
Board member Emily Jackson, who was the only member who voted against re-adopting the old language, called the policy "out of date" and said she was "really concerned by the fact that this policy doesn't really say much at all."
The new policy, as it was proposed in a second draft, added intolerance of discrimination based on gender identity, ancestry, marital status and genetic information. In its third draft, the board struck a line through the term "gender identity," leaving some parents and educators to wonder why.
Rochelle Eisenberg, legal counsel for the board, said the terms weren't included because "under current federal law, it's unclear whether gender identity is a protected classification."
"Under state law, while gender identification is a protected classification with regard to employees, it is not a protected classification with regard to students," Eisenberg said.
Eisenberg recommended the board await the Supreme Court ruling on the matter, which is expected in 2020.
"It's better to have all of the facts before you when you're making policy decisions," she said.
Michele Drostin, a mother whose child is in the Talbot school system, said during the public comment portion of the meeting she was worried her child, who is exploring her gender identity, would be discriminated against.
"Is (my child) going to be subtly discriminated against or blatantly? What does that look like?" Drostin asked the Board.
"Is it going to be a gray area, so teachers and administrators never really know what they're allowed to do to support my child? These are things we need to think through," she said.
Jackson agreed with Drostin, saying, "Gender identity wasn't something we were talking about in 2010 or 2012, and it is something we're talking about now in our schools."
She said she didn't "understand how being more inclusive, more specific and more forward-thinking in our policy could hurt anybody."
"When I'm looking at something like this, I want to make sure there aren't unintended consequences," Jackson said. "I want to make sure we're not going to hurt a population."
Talbot School Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith recommended the board adopt its former nondiscrimination policy, which was in place "before it got into all of this."
"If you want to just stick with your current policy until you see the need to make any other changes and then you can massage it more and have more conversation about it and take more time, that might be a way to go about it," Griffith said.
Board President Michael Garman said, "Regardless of whatever a child's difference is from other children, no one is allowed to be bullied."