By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board has not taken action on its proposed policy on the treatment of transgender students since the matter was tabled Oct. 5, but a concerned citizen reminded the board Tuesday night of the policy’s relevance to Accomack students.
“I can say, as a matter of fact, you have transgender children coming into your school district right now. I counsel the parents, I counsel the children, and I can tell you right now that they are afraid,” said Jeannie Bale, a local business owner who is transgender and runs the Gender Expression Movement Eastern Shore support group.
“That’s why they have not come out,” Bale continued. “But they are here. This is not a problem in the future, this is not a problem two years down the road, this is a problem now that needs to be addressed.”
Bale described the transphobia she encountered when she moved to Accomack five years ago. She had not yet come out, and she asked locals about their opinions of the transgender community so she would know which places on the Shore were safe to visit.
She “got an earful from a lot of people” but learned where to do everyday things safely like drive a car and shop – “and it’s not a lot of places,” Bale said.
Even though she has been berated, attacked, denied medical care, and “treated like a subhuman,” Bale has stayed on the Shore because she has a reliable support group. “They’re with me every single day, but these children do not have that,” she said.
Transgender children who have received counseling from Bale have told her that their parents would throw them out of their homes or they would wind up “buried in a ditch” if they came out.
“This is 2021, not 1970. These children need somebody to protect them,” Bale said.
Eastern Shore Community College President James Shaeffer and Vice President Patrick Tompkins gave the school board a brief update on ESCC and its dual enrollment program.
ESCC’s finances and total enrollment were struggling when Shaeffer was named the community college’s new president two-and-a-half years ago, but both are now stable, Shaeffer said.
Last year, ESCC received about $400,000 more in revenue than it spent, and enrollment was up 20%, he said.
Students in the dual enrollment program, including about 190 Accomack County students, make up about 30% of ESCC’s total enrollment, Tompkins said.
ESCC’s dual enrollment program is “incredibly important to this community because it enables students to have access to college education at an earlier age.”
Students can earn credits that can be transferred to a four-year college or applied toward a career and technical education degree or certificate.
New ESCC offerings that have been approved or may soon be approved include career studies certificate programs in automotive technology and welding. An EMT training course is expected to become available in the spring, Tompkins said.
The Virginia Community College System and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia have passed two new initiatives called the Passport and the Uniform Certificate of General Studies (UCGS), which are accepted by any Virginia public college or university.
The Passport is a 16-credit program and the UCGS is a 32-credit program. ESCC’s job is to identify which of its courses will fulfill the program requirements and set the course sequences, Tompkins said.
ESCC also will work toward creating a pathway for students to earn an associate degree through the community college’s dual enrollment and summer programs.
Tompkins said, “We feel that the partnership with Accomack is very strong … despite the pandemic.”
Accomack schools had no teachers or staff and 10 students who were positive for COVID-19 as of Nov. 16.