Carroll Report Maryland Muckraker

Muckraker: Opt-Out Ban Targeting Carroll County Helped By A Bipartisan Blooper

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Delegates April Rose and Eric Bouchat, Senator Justin Ready, HB0558, Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary

Despite all the fuss about books, what is really under threat of being banned in Carroll County Public Schools is the parental right to opt your children out of curriculum content you feel is age-inappropriate or otherwise conflicts with your family’s values or religious beliefs.

And in a shocking decision, a conservative Carroll County Delegate voted to help make it happen. 

House Bill 0558, sponsored by Howard County Democrat Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, would make “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” one of nine topics in the state’s Comprehensive Health Education Framework, which local school boards are required to develop curriculum for.

HB0558 would make “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” a required topic that parents can not opt their children out of

Today, gender identity and sexual orientation content already exists in the curriculum, but it is nested under a topic that gets treated uniquely: “Family Life and Human Sexuality.”

Unique because, for the historically sensitive topic, parents can opt their children out of the state’s standard curriculum for it, and into an alternative version of the curriculum developed by a local jurisdiction’s Family Life Advisory Council. 

Where the state’s liberal curriculum would ask students to differentiate between sex assigned at birth and gender identity, a local curriculum to Carroll probably would not. 

Atterbeary, chair of the ways and means committee, sees this not as an expression of regional values or local democracy, but as a lack of inclusion on the part of Carroll, marking the county’s schools for non-compliance with the curriculum regulations in Maryland’s Code of Regulations, or COMAR. 

In that vein, a 2022 complaint was filed to the state Dept. of Ed., requesting that Board of Ed members Tara Battaglia and Donna Sivigny be removed from their posts, in part because they permitted Carroll’s Family Life Advisory Council to be populated mainly by members of Moms for Liberty and Concerned Parents, both grassroots conservative groups, who as Council members would develop curriculum that was more restrained on issues of gender and sex. 

Excerpt of 2022 complaint filed against Tara Battaglia and Donna Sivigny to the state Dept. of Ed.

Turning to statute to enforce regulation, Atterbeary confirmed her bill “removes the ability of parents to opt their students out of gender identity and sexual orientation topics” during a House Floor Session last week, before naming Carroll as the singular inspiration for her statewide bill: 

“The committee wanted to be clear that topics related to gender identity and sexual orientation are not stripped as they were by Carroll County during the previous years,” she said.   

And soon after: “It should be offensive that one jurisdiction said, no, we are not going to respect one type of individual.”   

By elevating “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” to its own topic, and decoupling it from “Family Life and Human Sexuality,” Atterbeary and the Democrats would be effectively banning parental opt-outs in Carroll County.

Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary speaking about HB0558 during a House Floor Session last week

Atterbeary’s bill, the same as one she filed last year with the support of former State Schools Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury, passed in the House last week 97-36 and will now move through the Senate.  

In what made for a shock, Carroll’s Republican Delegate Eric Bouchat, who campaigned as a conservative, voted Yes on the bill, later analogizing legislating to horse-trading, where a self-sacrifice here begets a favor there.     

He was the only Republican to vote Yes for the bill, now granting Democrats the ability to claim it was bipartisan as it heads to the Senate, it also being true they can say an elected official from the county at issue signed onto it.  

During an annual Republican Central Committee legislative briefing last weekend, Bouchat was pressed about the vote by Battaglia, who has taken slings and arrows over the issue as a member of the Board of Ed.      

Delegates April Rose and Eric Bouchat, and Senator Justin Ready speaking at a Republican Central Committee legislative briefing

Bouchat explained that Republicans have no sway in Annapolis, and that by occasionally siding with Democrats, one can accrue individual influence that can later be used in service of other legislation, perhaps in his case the charter government bill he is sponsoring which seems to be met mostly with resistance by Carroll Republicans on the premise that it correlates with urbanization and an unwelcome concentration of power.  

Former Delegate Susan Krebs rebutted Bouchat, recalling a story from times past when another Republican Delegate horse-traded bills with Democrats, in this instance signing onto some tax increase in exchange for a local favor making the Smith Island cake the official state cake. 

(It is said the cakes were never as tasty again once the sour legislation got baked in with the sweet butter and batter)

Bouchat’s legislating philosophy stands in contrast to that of Senator Justin Ready, who maintains you speak the truth and make Democrats pay rhetorically for their silly ideas and poor policy prescriptions, recognizing that sometimes good Republican ideas get picked up in Democrat bills at the margins. 

Mike Klimovitz, Pastor at Friendship Baptist, who opened the briefing with a prayer, also chastised Bouchat, demanding that he vote with his convictions. 

The Tri-District Republican Club, led by president Ray Fava, formerly a Commissioner candidate, resolved to censure Bouchat, while commending Delegates April Rose, Chris Tomlinson, and Josh Stonko for opposing the bill. 

Rose in particular, who spoke on the House Floor multiple times last week in opposition to Atterbeary, appears to have paid a price for her resistance, it being the case that a warm relationship with a Democrat colleague has become complicated by the bill that legislates over the identity issues many progressives regard as sacred. 

Board of Ed President Marsha Herbert thanked Rose for tacking a licking, confirming her and her Board are not bad actors, but merely care about local control and parental rights.  

Bryan Thompson, chair of Carroll’s Family Life Advisory Council, succeeding Amy Gilford, wrote to Atterbeary, inviting her to a conversation about the bill with the local council and Carroll community. 

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