By a unanimous vote, the Falls Church City Public Schools’ elected board sent a strong message to the Youngkin administration in Richmond last night denouncing the governor’s and current state Department of Education’s proposed changes on student transgender policies.
A substantial 1,500 word submission by the F.C. School Board constituted its reply to the Republican Governor Youngkin’s attempt to reintroduce discriminatory and biased practices against transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary students on the contention that such new “model policies” would “cause harm.”
The board voted to issue its conviction to “oppose the proposed policies, the 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity and Respect for all Students and Parents.” It stated, “The model policies take too narrow a view of gender to be useful in protecting transgender students.”
Instead, the board’s statement calls on the Department of Education to “ask each member district to submit a report describing how its politics and regulations apply relevant to protecting and supporting transgender students while “appropriately involving parents in implementing the policies and regulations.”
In its action, the Falls Church board echoed similar responses from its neighboring Fairfax County, where its Board of Supervisors adopted a similar strongly-worded rejection of the governor’s new policies.
The outline of the Falls Church statement, authored by School Board member David Ortiz and signed by all on the School Board, begins with a summary, then describes the Falls Church School System, a section noting that “Model Policies Put School Districts and Parents in Opposition,” a section noting that “The Model Policies Take Too Narrow a View of Gender,” and “The Model Policies Would Cause Harm to Transgender Students,” and ending with “The Virginia Department of Education Should Compile a Record Regarding How Transgender Students are Treated and Protected.”
A statement put out by the F.C. School Board and staff, including Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, to parents recently stated that the board “wants to assure our community that we value and support every student in our charge. We have codified our stance with respect to nondiscrimination and anti-harassment in numerous School Board policies, and will continue to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect in our schools.”
It added, “We are committed to following the Virginia Human Rights Act and the settled law of Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, 972 F.3d 586 (4th. Cir. 2020), which requires respect for the gender identity of transgender students just like any other student in FCCPS…We believe all students deserve a community that promotes inclusion and celebrates authenticity and assure you that FCCPS will maintain consistency with settled law and our adopted nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.”
In its statement to Youngkin and the Department of Education, the F.C. School Board said it “encourages parents to be active members of the school community and advocates for the education, care, and support of their children and all children in the district. Parents and teachers are expected to work together to help serve the particular needs of students.”
In our elementary schools, it noted, “FCCPS faculty ask parents to submit a form regarding their children’s learning style, interests, and needs. This form includes information regarding gender identity if applicable. This information is essential for FCCPS to be able to provide the appropriate support to the student, whether it is access to non-gendered restrooms, requests to be referred by a different name or pronoun, among other possible accommodations. In the middle and high schools, teachers are expected to communicate directly with parents regarding their children’s academic performance and social well being.”
By contrast, it noted, “the model policies, being framed foremost as maintaining the rights of parents, make an implicit and incorrect presumption that school districts somehow are making decisions regarding students without the input of parents.”
In the proposed model, the F.C. statement says, “policies refer only to transgender students, which is too narrow to adequately describe the range of challenges that a school division may face. Indeed, some students may be transgender, but others may be gender nonconforming or gender non-binary. Moreover the definition in the model policies, i.e. that a transgender student can only be identified by a parent submitting written documentation attesting as such, fails to recognize that any transgender (or more generally gender nonconforming) person feels this way independent of written documentation.”
The F.C. board statement then asserts that “the most concerning aspect of the model policies is that if they were implemented as drafted, they would codify practices that would harm transgender and gender nonconforming children.”
“In the model policies,” the F.C. letter states, “accommodations for transgender students require that parents request such accommodation and that they be placed into the students ‘official record.’ Our experience helping to support transgender students is that we initially work informally with parents, teachers, and school administrations to determine appropriate accommodations well in advance of any ‘official’ action being taken.”
The F.C. statement adds, “To require that parents make requests for ‘official’ changes raises the bar unnecessarily and would delay needed support. Further, FCCPS, and we suspect most other districts in the Commonwealth, maintains an official student record for the purposes of documenting identity and academic achievement.”
It goes on, “The model policies leave open a door for bullying and harassment of transgender students. The proposed model policies state that a district shall not compel personnel or students to refer to transgender students according to their chosen names or pronouns. But personal affirmation is essential for all students. To permit district personnel or other students to deliberately refer to students in a manner contrary to how they view themselves is bullying, plain and simple, and causes harm.”
“Further,” the F.C. policy states. “The proposed model policies could put students at risk.” The notion “that districts shall not conceal information from parents” runs counter to the need for “students often share information with teachers, counselors and other personnel that they do not share with their parents.”
While the Board acknowledges that “providing the complete range of accommodations for transgender and gender nonconforming students requires deep parental involvement,…situations occur in which students may feel unsafe revealing that they are transgender or gender nonconforming to their parents, so that in the best interests of the students, districts should not be compelled to reveal.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also formally opposed Youngkin’s proposed model policies, saying they would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.
In a letter approved at a Fairfax County board meeting Tuesday, board chair Jeff McKay said that the policies would have a negative effect on the county’s economic position and cites the human impact on students.
McKay stated, “Youngkin’s model policies – and the discrimination inherent to them – will have a chilling effect on our continued ability to attract the world’s most innovative companies to Fairfax County. To put it bluntly, discrimination is bad for business,”
McKay in his letter stated that Youngkin’s proposed policies “put the county’s children at risk by denying support and affirmation to transgender students.”
He noted, “A young LGBTQ person attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Key drivers of high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among transgender youth are the lack of social support and affirming experiences that they often face,” the letter states.
Meanwhile, the Fairfax County School Board passed, 7-4, a resolution on “inclusive education” at its meeting Tuesday, The resolution affirms the county’s support for teachers and administrators when it comes to “inclusive curriculum and instruction.” The resolution is symbolic and does not change county policy.