2 Virginia school systems diverge on model policies for treatment of transgender students

Two Virginia school systems have different responses to transgender policies laid out by the state’s education department.

The state’s largest school system Fairfax County Public Schools announced plans to stick with its current transgender policies instead of following those laid out by the Virginia Department of Education. Meanwhile, Spotsylvania County’s school board members voted to conform with the state’s model policies.

In a message to the community, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid said a detailed legal review was behind the decision to keep current policies protecting transgender students in place.

“Our existing policies still stand,” Reid said. ” … We have concluded our detailed legal review and determined that our current Fairfax County Public School policies are consistent with federal and state anti-discrimination laws as required by the new model policies.”

Current Fairfax County schools policies give students the right to choose their pronouns, which facilities they use and which activities to participate in, based on their gender identity. Policies also encourage the right to privacy for students.

The move rebuffs Gov. Glenn Youngkin‘s call for school districts to require parental consent for any of those decisions, as laid out in Virginia’s model policies.

“We believe that supporting our students and working with parents and caregivers are not mutually exclusive; we already do both and will continue to do so. We know that students can only learn effectively when they feel safe and supported,” Reid’s message said.

Spotsylvania Co. school board clashes, conforms to policy

Days before, tensions were high during a school board meeting in Spotsylvania County, where school leaders voted in favor of a new policy involving the treatment of transgender students.

Some school board members made clear their disapproval of the new district policy, which was based on the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies.

In part, the new guidance said school divisions may not encourage teachers to conceal information about students’ gender from their parents and that students who are minors must be referred to by the names and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves the use of something else.

Spotsylvania County’s approved policy will also require students to use “intimate spaces,” such as locker rooms, and get overnight accommodations based on their documented sex. Students in the district won’t be able to participate in sex-specific programs, events or activities that don’t align with the sex indicated in their school records.

During the vote, board member Nicole Cole clashed with Chairwoman Lisa Phelps, adding a vote of “no confidence” for the chair following her refusal to allow members to speak during the vote.

“This is absolutely ridiculous behavior, Ms. Phelps,” she yelled.

Lorita Daniels also expressed strong disapproval of the chair before voting “No” on approval of the policy.

Board member Rabih Abuismail said not involving parents would be overstepping.

“The reason I agree with the governor is parents matter,” Abuismail said.

Board member Kirk Twigg also showed his support. “We should not be keeping secrets from parents,” Twigg said.

Katie Quick, a student at Riverbend High School, disagreed with the policy and pointed to a need for more focus on students’ academic success.

“While this board is worried about the maybe 15 transgender students per school, kids all over the county are falling behind,” Quick said.

Jackson Hunley, a student at Massaponax High School, said the policy targets and disrespects transgender students while “prohibiting SCPS from addressing them by their preferred names and pronouns without parental authorization.”

The motion passed 4-to-2 with board member Dawn Shelley abstaining from voting.

WTOP’s Ivy Lyons and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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