The Board of Education passed a more comprehensive LGTBQ+ policy this year and last year it endorsed a resolution supporting the statement that Black Lives Matter. Recent events at Chesapeake High School spotlight why leadership from the board was needed and how strong the support is for safe, inclusive schools in the community.
In October, during Spirit Week, a group of students decided to display their spirit, on Unity Day, by parading through the school behind a Trump banner in a show of disdain and disrespect for their fellow students, the intent of Unity Day, and the American flag. (Who thinks having an American flag stretched across their butt is patriotic? It is disrespectful — on bathing suits, beach umbrellas, lawn chairs, cozies, etc.)
Whether intended or not, the “parade” became a spectacle that disrupted the school environment and, for many, ruined what was to be a fun day. LGBTQ+ and minority students reported being singled out for vitriol from the disruptive students. Much of the belligerent parade occurred in the presence of school staff without being shut down.
In response, a student posted a petition on Change.Org pleading for the school to address a long-standing problem. “Chesapeake High School has had a very prominent issue of racism, ableism and homophobia for as long as I have been in this school. Between gay students being called slurs, race wars, confederate flags, vandalism of pride art and many more. These problems often go ignored by administrators.” It quickly had more than 500 signatures and now has over 1,200.
The school’s response to the event on that day was inadequate, but it has been listening to its students. The principal sent a letter to the school community stating school LQBTQ+ policies, expressing personal distress, taking responsibility for how that day unfolded, and reaffirming his commitment to ensuring that all students are treated with civility and respect.
School faculty, staff and the Student Government Associated also joined three community groups that promote social justice and civility (One Pasadena, PASS, and Annapolis Pride) to support a chalking event before this month’s Unity Day. They created chalk graffiti with symbols and slogans, decorating sidewalks outside the school in support of LGBTQ+ and minority students targeted for hostility in October.
Some are complaining that the chalking and allowing LGBTQ+ and BLM flags to be displayed in classrooms at Chesapeake are divisive. What they don’t acknowledge is that the graffiti and the flags are symbols of support for students that have been routinely and systematically targeted for intimidation by fellow students. These symbols don’t represent any one group or a specific political agenda. The idea is to show respect for every student as they are — conformity not required and intolerance not accepted.
So, is it acceptable to display thin blue line or “Don’t Tread on Me” flags in classrooms? Well, have police been the target of systematic bullying at schools? Is there a school policy supporting students who own guns because they have been routinely subject to hostility from their fellow students? There is a difference.
Kudos to the school board for enacting policies to protect LGTBQ+ and minority students. As was made abundantly clear by events at Chesapeake High, ignoring problems does not make them go away. The most enduring lessons we teach our children are the examples we set by our actions as well as inaction. So thank you to the many Chesapeake High School administrators, teachers, staff, and students who are publicly rejecting bigotry and making it clear that everyone in their community is valued and respected for who they are. Civil society doesn’t just happen, we create it and are responsible for maintaining it.
Janet Holbrook is a resident of Crownsville and is a member of WISE: Women, Indivisible, Strong, Effective.