As culture war issues spread through public hearings at Virginia’s school board meetings, school boards are starting to oppose adopting new transgender policies mandated by state law. Amid complaints and demands from public speakers, the Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) Board voted four to three on Tuesday to reject adopting the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.
PCS Chairman Samuel Burton told the public that the board had never voted to adopt the policies.
He said, “We did what was necessary so that we could be in compliance with the law. And that’s the reason that some of the other divisions haven’t adopted it because they thought their policy covered it. Only time will tell if it’s challenged.”
“It’s time to challenge it right now,” someone in the audience shouted.
“If we voted to reject it now, that would just mean that we don’t vote to accept it,” Board Member Kevin Mills said, calling for the vote.
At the urging of public commenters, the Warren County School Board voted four to zero on July 7 against adding transgender policies, although Superintendent Christopher Ballenger has since suggested they might revisit the decision, according to The Northern Virginia Daily.
Other districts are saying their policies already comply with state requirements.
Franklin County School (FCS) Superintendent Bernice Cobbs told 10News that the FCS non-discrimination policy already protects transgender students. On July 8, Botetourt County Public School Board members said the district’s policies already complied with the state law, according to WDBJ7.
The model policies are a response to legislation passed by the 2020 Virginia General Assembly. According to a December memo from Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, the model policies address compliance with nondiscrimination law, maintaining supportive learning environments free of harassment, prevention of bullying, students’ records, privacy, dress codes, and sex-specific school activities.
“School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their gender identity,” the model policies state.
It’s not clear how or if the state will enforce adoption of the policies.
VDOE Director of Media Relations Charles Pyle told The Virginia Star, “The 2020 legislation (House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161) requires local school boards to ‘adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education’ by the start of the 2021-2022 school year.”
Pyle didn’t say if the VDOE or other state agency would enforce the law.
He said, “It is the responsibility of the local school board to meet the requirements of the legislation. As in any matter involving new state-required local policies, the Virginia Department of Education provides technical assistance to support local policy development. Local school boards also consult with counsel regarding the development of policies to meet their obligations under state law.”
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