The Carroll County Board of Education adopted a policy on Wednesday that prohibits Pride flags from being displayed in schools under its jurisdiction.
Under the new policy, which the board adopted by a 4-1 vote margin, flags that are not specifically included in its language cannot be “flown, posted or affixed” to school buildings and facilities. The language signals that, although the policy does not explicitly mandate a ban on Pride flags, such flags cannot be displayed, as they are not included in the list of flags that the policy permits.
Patricia Dorsey, the only board member to vote against the policy, expressed her disapproval of the measure to the board during the meeting.
“I think that we’re doing them a disservice if we do not include saying that, ‘Yes, let’s just go ahead and have their safe spaces designated by the flags in the classroom,’” Dorsey said.
In public comments made to the school board for their meeting; parents, faculty and members of the community made impassioned arguments against the new policy.
“The students of color and the students of [the] LGBTQ [community] are bullied in this school system on a regular basis,” one public commenter said. “We have students that have come in here and talked to you specifically about the fact that they have tried to commit suicide because of the way they are treated in this school system. I do not find [these to be] acceptable policies.”
However, other members of the public came out in support of the new policy, believing Pride flags to have no place in school spaces.
One parent stated how she believed that the presence of Pride flags and discussions of sexuality and gender identity in the classroom could end up harming students rather than helping them.
“It overstimulates a curiosity that [students] are not remotely able to comprehend yet and could further their curiosities, potentially causing harm to themselves or others out of pure confusion,” the parent said.
The commenter asserted such conversations and displays of support should be kept private and away from the classroom.
“Allies can be made and known and shared in a separate setting with an appointed advocate equipped with the correct resources to properly address these issues with our children who are struggling with them,” she said.
The separation from and neutrality on the topic of Pride flags and discussions in schools has been echoed by multiple members of the board who voted in favor of the policy.
Board member Tara Battaglia told the Washington Blade how she believed voting for the policy would achieve fairness among those in the county’s schools.
“Schools should always be a neutral environment and welcoming to all students,” Battaglia said.
Dorsey and other members of the public who chose to speak during the meeting denied the notion that allowing the display of Pride flags in schools was an inherently political or destructive gesture, framing it, rather, as a gesture of humanity.
“We’ve got students who are saying, ‘See me, see me, look at me for who I am, accept me for who I am,’” Dorsey said.
The adoption of the policy has since gained attention from across the state, with multiple statewide candidates for office responding to the decision.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running for governor, took to Twitter the day after the meeting, sharply criticizing the policy.
“This is shameful, regressive, and exactly the wrong message to be sending to our LGBTQ+ youth, who deserve a learning environment that welcomes them for who they are,” Gansler wrote. “Also, this is begging for a constitutional challenge. I call on the school board to reconsider.”
Just hours later, former Democratic National Committee chair and fellow gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez referred to the decision as “utterly disgraceful.”
“Our classrooms — and every community across Maryland — should be a welcoming, safe place that empowers every person to be who they are,” Perez wrote. “At a time when our LGBTQ+ youth face incredible challenges, we need to do all we can to support them.”
As concerns among national and state advocates rise over the future of LGBTQ students’ access to affirming spaces and conversations in schools, advocates in Carroll County and around the country continue to convey a message of humanity.
“We’ve heard a lot of voices from the students that we really do have to acknowledge,” Dorsey said. “Let’s just see them, let’s hear them and let’s validate them for who they are.”