by Geoff Fox
Back in November of 2022, Ashley McCusker appeared before Washington County Board of Education officials talking about books she deemed pornographic being in Washington County schools, and asking them to be removed.
Last Tuesday, January 10, McCusker came to the January Hancock council meeting to repeat her message.
Ashley McCusker is the wife of Hancock councilman Josh McCusker.
She read excerpts from two books and asked town officials for their support to have some books removed from school libraries.
Ashley McCusker, sitting before town officials, read sections from books, including Looking for Alaska by John Green. The passage she chose included characters engaging in oral sex.
The books she had read from previously are not in Hancock school libraries.
Ashley McCusker also spoke about backing three candidates running for Board of Education seats this past election – Mike Guessford, Ethan Loewen, and Darrel Evans. Two – Guessford and Evans – won their seats. McCusker said voters in the Town of Hancock backed all three.
“This proves the town of Hancock is not okay with this type of material being available to minors in our schools,” she said.
McCusker also noted the Board of Education has said books cannot be removed due to it being against freedom of speech. However, she said forms have to be signed at the beginning of the year outlining what children are unable to say, write, and wear.
“Our children, under their guidelines, would not be able to write or read aloud the same story they can read from the school library,” McCusker said.
McCusker said she signed those papers as she agrees with the guidelines are “understandable” and “for the good of the children.”
However, she said, all she has gotten is pushback for trying to remove the books from school libraries.
She then asked town officials to stand with her and have the school board create a policy where concerned citizens can present books they find questionable and board members can do a review and potential removal.
Councilman Josh McCusker said he thinks town officials should send a letter in support of his wife’ s plan.
After the meeting, Town Manager Mike Faith said he would be drafting a letter or resolution and it would be discussed at the town meeting Thursday, January 19.
Ashley McCusker told town officials she would forward Town Manager Mike Faith an email from WCPS outlining a process for how books are considered age appropriate.
Ethan Loewen followed McCusker to echo her concerns and add his own.
Lowen, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Washington County Board of Education, said the Supreme Court ruled books could not be removed.
WCPS then took the existing policy and “made it so restrictive” the community could not ask for a book to be removed unless the superintendent or school board decides to do so.
“They purposefully wrote it. It’s quite obvious for that purpose,” he said.
He said the time for community involvement with the local board of education “has never been greater” with the most visible being the books in the library.
“Where you find a wasp, you’ re going to find a nest not that far away,” he said.
Loewen then claimed the school system had set up policies about student gender identities and led a class on the topic for all sixth graders, and even paid $200,000 to a private company to educate students on different gender identities.
His claims were untrue, said Washington County Public Schools officials in response to questions from The Hancock News.
Loewen said there is a criteria where administrators in schools can change the gender of a child on school records and not tell parents.
According to WCPS Communication Officer Erin Anderson, Loewn’s statement is incorrect.
Anderson directed The Hancock News to a document called “Administrative Regulations JOB-R” outlining how WCPS handles student records. The document was initially approved on November 30, 1983 and revised and signed by Superintendent Boyd Michael on January 7, 2022.
Under Section IV , Part D, it lists 13 steps that must be taken to amend student records. Changes can’t be undertaken by schools without administrators and a hearing involved.
Loewen also claimed teachers and administrators can teach children how to live as the other gender, keeping it a secret from parents. He also claimed WCPS spent $200,000 on a class for sixth graders from Advocates For Youth, teaching “they were taught whether they were a boy or girl is subjective to how you feel, not what genetics are.”
Anderson said it is Washington County Public Schools’ priority to provide access to education and a learning environment where all students can reach their highest potential.
“If a student approaches a teacher or administrator about gender identity preferences, the staff member creates a safe space to discuss the student’s needs and wishes,” she said.
That approach follows the Maryland State Department of Education guidelines for gender identity and nondiscrimination in schools. Anderson said all county students are presented with the definition of gender identity, gender experience, and sexual orientation as part of the countywide Family Life curriculum, which is presented in sixth grade.
The county follows the state standards for this curriculum. It is available to review on the WCPS website (https://wcpsmd.com/health-education/health-and-family-life-curriculum).
Anderson said the county school board has not purchased a curriculum for what Loewen described.
“More specifically, the Board of Education has never approved any purchase for a program from Advocates for Youth for $200,000,” she said.
Loewen made more comments about how there needs to be more community involvement with the board of education, how the schools are being run, and violence in schools fueled by “drug motivated behavior” in schools before stepping away from the microphone.