The Louisa County School Board delayed a discussion of whether to adopt a model policy on treatment of transgender students while litigation on the issue is pending in a Richmond court.
The board had tentative plans to consider the policy at its July 6 meeting, according to Superintendent of Schools Doug Straley. The policy was developed by the state Department of Education earlier this year in response to direction from the Virginia General Assembly in 2020.
The Family Foundation of Virginia sued the state in Richmond Circuit Court on March 30, arguing that the department of education did not give the public adequate time to comment on the model policy. The lawsuit also contends that the policy infringes on the rights of parents, students and teachers.
“This policy seriously jeopardizes students’ physical safety and bodily privacy; free speech rights of educators and students, as well as parental authority,” said Victoria Cobb, Family Foundation president, in an email urging people to attend the school board meeting. Cobb was one of 11 people to speak against the policy at the meeting; the other 10 were Louisa County residents. Two residents spoke in support of the policy.
The 2020 legislation required the state education department to develop a model policy concerning transgender students, with emphasis on nondiscrimination, prevention of bullying, how students are identified, enforcement of sex-based dress codes, and student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. The law says that activities and events do not include athletics, which are generally regulated by the Virginia High School League.
In response to the law, the department released a policy with several provisions, among them that schools shall allow students to use name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity. If a parent or student requests it, educators are to address students using the asserted name and pronoun. The policy also calls for school systems to use this information on school records upon request.
“In the situation where parents or guardians of a minor student do not agree with the student’s request, school divisions will need to determine whether to respect the student’s request, abide by the parent’s wishes ... or develop an alternative that respects both,” the policy states.
The hot-button issue of transgender students’ use of restrooms is addressed in the model policy, which says students should be allowed to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity. But the policy also encourages schools to find solutions that allow students privacy.
“Taking into account existing school facilities, administrators should take steps to designate gender-inclusive or single-user restrooms,” the policy says. “Any accommodations should be non-stigmatizing and minimize lost instructional time.”
At the school board meeting, some speakers said flatly that the model policy is wrong, making their case on religious grounds. Others said they worried about their children feeling uncomfortable in school restrooms, particularly if the students are girls.
“I can’t begin to understand what it’s like to have a child who’s experiencing gender dysphoria or an identity crisis,” said Andrew Gabala, who has children approaching school age, as he spoke against the model policy. “These children do need all the love we can muster. But [it won’t be achieved] through alienating their families or posing theories incongruent with biological principles.”
Sue Frankel-Streit, who also has children in the Louisa schools, applauded the schools’ anti-bullying practices and said the model policy is intended to protect children.
“I believe this board is going to continue to lead, not just in this county but in this state, by doing the right thing by our most vulnerable students,” she said.