david kerr H&S

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Stafford County Public Schools officials are having a tough time arriving at a policy on transgender students.  It seems far more difficult than it should be, but that said, I am looking at this business from the outside. Maybe, I’m missing something.  Having served several years on the school board myself, I can’t quite figure what the holdup is. After more than a year of back and forth rather than establishing a responsible, low key policy for handling matters related to transgender students, the issue is by no means settled.  Thanks to this continuing delay, the discussion that was once deliberate and thoughtful now risks becoming a circus. 

First of all, let’s consider what a policy is.  It’s simply a statement of how an organization is going to handle certain situations.  In the case of our school board the proposed transgender policy, it was originally crafted by the superintendent in response to a terrible situation involving a transgender student.  During an active shooter drill, officials at one of our schools were so lost as to what to do, (i.e. deciding whether the child who identifies as a girl should seek shelter in the girls or boys dressing rooms) left her to sit an outside bench.  If it had been real life she would have been a sitting duck for the gunman. Our normally quiet and low-key school system got worldwide attention for that debacle. Quite rightly, the superintendent and several members of the school board said it’s time for a policy.  We can’t let things like this ever happen again. God bless them, their hearts were in the right place. Unfortunately, divisive national politics, the culture wars, call it what you will, seem to have intervened. 

The superintendent’s first proposal was a policy that allowed maximum inclusion for transgender students.  The first reaction of the board was to slow things down a bit. They wanted community input. The board promised a series of workshops and community engagement activities related to the proposed policy.  Almost none of these happened and without much fanfare, several months ago, prompted by a couple of anxious members, the board decided that the superintendent’s policy was not what they wanted. So, back to the drawing board and a new draft policy.  This is the “red line” version. That’s because the draft, showing all the changes, has a lot of redlines. No, and I didn’t make that up.

This policy doesn’t delve deep on the transgender issue like the original policy did, which is a shame since that was the original purpose of the policy, but its broader non-discrimination language, which includes transgender staff and students, is encouraging.  What’s more, it promises a continuing community engagement regarding transgender students. It promises to keep the conversation going. Again, not the whole pie for those of us who wanted a more inclusive policy, but it’s a good start.  

Oh, but wait, this is an election year isn’t it, and some members, nervous, because I suspect several members are fearful this will become an election issues if they vote on it, got the jitters over even this fairly restrained new language.  There was supposed to be a vote on July 17. However, that didn’t happen. Apparently, several members thought it hadn’t had enough legal scrutiny. This sounds like a dubious objection since the county school system’s own in-house legal staff, rather expert in educational matters, thought it was sound.  What’s more, back in 2015, the attorney general of Virginia, no legal slouch, affirmed a similar policy in an advisory opinion.

But, no, that’s wasn’t good enough.  The board is going to seek independent legal assessment of the proposed policy.  Who, pray tell, will have better capabilities to assess its legal risks? That’s hard to say, but that was the board’s wish, and so that’s the way it’s going to work.  This will be interesting to watch.

Some members have expressed concern that the new policy might leave them open to a lawsuit. However, it’s possible the school system will be sued regardless of what policy they decide on and that includes not deciding on one.  

The issues will come back on the board’s agenda in September and as feared thanks to this incredibly long delay, we have the circus atmosphere.  Even the nationally known conservative “Family Foundation” has gotten involved. They and other activists sense the chance to make some political hay.  As for the school board, it’s a good guess that come September they’ll do what they’ve done throughout the past year and that’s kick the can down the road one more time.  Hoping no doubt, that if they do ever adopt a policy the election will be over. That’s a sad commentary. Political courage seems to be in short supply amongst this group.

(1) comment

Johnson-Miles

Great opinion piece David. You are right on point here. Certain board members want to hear "legal opinions" to questions they have, but I believe these are only delaying tactics so their votes don't have to be recorded prior to the election on Nov. 5.



The proposed policies would protect transgender students and staff from discrimination in county schools. They were proposed by Superintendent Scott Kizner and board members Jamie Decatur and Sarah Chase. They are revisions to the division’s existing nondiscrimination, equal opportunity and anti-retaliation policy designed to make it more inclusive and applicable to staff as well as students.



In addition to race, sex, age, color, religion, national origin and political affiliation, the revised policy would state that the board will not discriminate against any person on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or genetic information.”



The revised nondiscrimination policy would replace the “Gender Identity and Expression” policy proposed by Kizner late last year, following an October incident in which a transgender girl at a county middle school was prevented from entering the girls’ or boys’ locker rooms during a lockdown drill.



That proposal stated specific ways schools should accommodate transgender students, such as honoring students’ requested names and gender pronouns, permitting students to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identities and providing alternative options to any student, transgender or not, who desires more privacy.



The revised nondiscrimination policy discussed Tuesday does not include these specific measures for protecting transgender students, but “gives us a pathway to have a greater conversation with the community,” Kizner said. “This policy makes a clear statement to the community that we accept everyone and we will take the steps necessary to help our staff and students.”



“The majority of the language of the change was replicated from Loudoun County Public Schools,” the SCPS Superintendent added. “Prince William has a very similar policy. Fairfax has its own variation. Arlington in June will adopt a policy more consistent with what I presented back in the fall.”



My opinion... the board members have had at least six months to figure this out, to find a way to protect LGBTQ students. Let's get it done now, before the school year begins. Better yet, let's vote the culprits out and put in new school board members who will listen to us and protect All students.

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