The Newport News School Board reconsidered its vote against a transgender policy. After frustration from transgender advocates and politicians including Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03) and Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Newport News), the board voted four to three in favor of the policy, flipping its previous vote of five to one with one abstention.
In the Thursday special meeting Member John Eley explained why he changed his vote: “As school board members we must uphold the law and follow the law. If we’re not in compliance with the law, we’re breaking the rules.”
In the previous meeting, Director of Legal Services Len Wallin had advised passing the policy, noting that the district could face legal challenges for not passing the legally-required policy. After the board voted against the policy, the board then called the special meeting to reconsider the vote. In both meetings, members expressed concern over the two-prong implementation in the district that included a policy and specific implementation procedures.
Board Member Terri Best explained why she decided to vote for the policy Thursday after abstaining in the previous vote.
She said, “At that time the rationale in my mind was that I needed more information, clarification, and was just not comfortable with some aspects of the procedure. In addition, the motion was already defeated, having four votes against before my name was even called. One of my fellow board members described it as taking the easy way. When I first heard that, I was somewhat offended. But upon further self-reflection that assessment was correct.”
“That evening my assignment was to vote on the policy, a policy that essentially said no student in Newport News Schools would be discriminated against. A policy that is Virginia law,” Best said.
Some board members repeated their concerns that the policy takes away parents’ and teacher’s rights.
Member Rebecca Aman said the police allowed the division to treat students one way and communicate with parents a different way and highlighted a potential conflict in the policy where the division could have to decide between a student’s “request” and a parent’s “wishes.”
She said, “I think it kind of suggests where we’re focusing on the students when the parents may have legal concerns with how their students identify, and what they’re teaching in the home, and what’s being taught at school.”
Chairman Douglas Brown said the board had received a lot of calls and emails from the public since the first vote, including some that were bullying. He said that his vote against the policy wasn’t due to concerns over bathrooms.
“Students can use bathrooms of their choice in Newport News Public Schools and have been able to do so for years,” he said.
Brown said there are a lot of problems with model policies put forward by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) but the biggest problem is prejudice.
He said, “Prejudice against all teachers. Prejudice against all parents. The VDOE Model Policy asserts that the only way a teacher is going to use the preferred pronouns of a student is through the coercion of firing them. It’s not enough for a student to simply ask nicely. It has to be in their contract that we’re going to fire them. If you vote for this tonight, you’re affirming the prejudice of the VDOE’s stance against our teachers.”
“The VDOE Model Policy prejudged every parent as a child abuser. Every parent. The VDOE prejudges parents as so abusive that boards must keep their child’s gender identity secret from them,” he said.
Before the vote, the Board heard hours of public comment both for and against the policy.
“I truly believe that we should be protecting every child. I believe that. What we did a week ago, here in this room, should actually stand,” Darin Pittman said. “I believe it is wrong for politicians to get involved in this matter, but we’re here. We’re here. If you pass this agenda that has been political, you allow it to trample upon the Constitutional rights of parents like me.”
Caroline Cox said, “When I have children, they will go through Newport News Public Schools. They will be experiencing these policies that are enacted. I want my kids to grow up and learn in an environment that is accepting and welcoming, no matter what type of person they grow into. If my child is trans or non-binary, I want them to be in an environment where they are afforded the same opportunities as their cisgender peers. And if my children are cisgender, I want them to know that different doesn’t mean bad, or immoral.”
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