The Prince William County School Board voted Wednesday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the division’s non-discrimination policy, protecting any students from being denied participation in school activities or otherwise discriminated against based on those identities.
Explained largely as a formality based on a series of federal court rulings, the change in the policy also follows a more detailed division regulation put in place over the summer laying out how county schools and staff must make “reasonable accommodations” for and recognize requests regarding students’ gender identity.
“The Gloucester County School Board v Grimm decision has made it clear that any public school that denies a transgender student the right to access its school programs and faciliites consistent with the student’s gender identity is engaging in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That is the law in Virginia,” a release sent out by the division reads.
School division staff said Wednesday night that the new language in the anti-discrimination policy would bring the division in line with current state law. Gainesville District Boardmember Jennifer Wall was the only vote against the measure, arguing that the division’s existing non-discrimination policy was broad enough already.
Adopted in June, PWCS Regulation 738-5 directs school staff to accept student’s and guardian’s “assertion of gender-nonconforming status,” mandating that — among other things — staff call students by the name and pronouns corresponding to their gender identity, as long as the student has the support of their guardian in making such assertions of their identity. The regulation also gives students access to all gendered facilities based on their asserted gender identity.
That regulation was prompted by the Virginia Human Rights Act, which was passed earlier this year, and division staff says it’s in the process of being further updated this school year as feedback from the broader school community is received.
“All Prince William County students have a fundamental right to access educational programs and facilities that are safe and supportive of their physical, emotional, social and academic needs,” Superintendent LaTanya McDade said at the last school board meeting Oct. 6. “It is our mission to ensure every school community is inclusive, appreciates diversity, students have a sense of belonging and are affirmed in their identity.”
The updated policy will specifically bar discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, religion, childbirth, age, marital or parental status, military status disability or genetic information.
“What we do here in Prince William County Schools is ensure the safety of all of our students and that means all of them,” Woodbridge Boardmember Loree Williams said.