On Wednesday, following months of controversy, the Loudoun County School Board voted 7-2 to approve a policy establishing protections for transgender students and ensuring that counselors, teachers, and administrators receive training on how to provide them with equal opportunities.
Policy 8040, as passed by the board, allows transgender and gender-expansive students to use their preferred name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity; requires staff and teachers to refer to students’ using those preferred names and pronouns; allows transgender students to participate in extracurricular activities based on their gender identity; and allows trans students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The policy also requires mental health professionals to complete training on LGBTQ-related issues and develop plans for combating bullying, harassment, or discrimination, and enables the superintendent to develop regulations and school procedures that will ensure consistency across schools.
The policy comes in response to a 2020 law passed by the Virginia General Assembly requiring school systems across the commonwealth to adopt transgender-affirming policies consistent with model policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education in March. While not all school systems have to adopt identical policies, all districts are expected to craft policies that accomplish the overall goal of ensuring public schools are promoting safe and welcoming environments for trans and gender-nonconforming students.
Wednesday’s vote took place during a sparsely-attended meeting at the LCPS administrative offices in Ashburn due to the board’s decision to delay a vote on the policy after the public comment period from the previous day’s scheduled board meeting stretched well beyond four hours, reports The Washington Post.
On Tuesday, hundreds of parents had shown up at yet another raucous meeting — one of several held this year — where parents and community members sparred over the trans-inclusive policies — with those opposed to the policy ranting or spouting venomous rhetoric directed at school board members, whom they accused of kowtowing to a radical political agenda.
One woman, Laura Morris, who identified herself as a teacher in the system, even used her time during the public comment period to resign, chastising the school board for its requirements and encouraging parents to look into private education instead of keeping their children enrolled in public schools.
“I quit your policies, I quit your trainings and I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly politicized agendas on our most vulnerable constituents — the children,” Morris said. “I will find employment elsewhere.”
LCPS officials had initially begun circulating a draft version of the transgender student guidelines last academic year, prompting outcry from conservative activists and parents who argue that their religious beliefs oppose transgenderism or that the presence of transgender children in restrooms or locker rooms pose a risk to the safety of cisgender children.
The school board has also come under attack in recent months for its efforts to try and achieve racial equity in education, with many conservatives claiming the district is secretly teaching, or requiring teachers to receive training in, “critical race theory,” a decades-old concept based around the idea that race is a social construct, and is embedded in legal systems and policies, requiring historical events or laws to be viewed through the prism of race. While unrelated to the transgender policy, there is significant overlap between the parents who oppose critical race theory and those who oppose recognizing transgender students’ gender identities — meaning opponents can be easily triggered by discussion of either issue.
In May, Tanner Cross, an elementary middle school physical education teacher spoke up against the proposed transgender policy, citing his Christian faith and his unwillingness to “lie” to children, which prevents him from addressing transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns. School officials placed Cross on leave and barred him from the school’s campus. But Cross sued the school system, and last month a judge ordered LCPS to reinstate Cross while his lawsuit works its way through the courts.
In June, the school board met publicly to consider the draft guidelines for how best to treat transgender students, but opponents of the policy refused to quiet down and began to threaten, cuss at, and otherwise disparage the board members. Law enforcement responding to the scene had to arrest one man and issue a summons for trespassing to a second man who refused to leave the meeting. The boisterous and overly combative nature of the June meeting prompted School Board Chair Brenda Sheridan to cut the public comment section short and call for extra security to be on hand for future meetings.
“We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity,” Sheridan told NBC Washington, adding that “loud voices aiming to make our schools a political battleground will not silence the work for our students.”
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