Policy updates adopted for treatment of transgender students

Published 6:45 am Tuesday, July 6, 2021

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The school board for Franklin City Public Schools voted 4-1 on June 17 to adopt policy updates consistent with the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies with the Treatment of Transgender Students in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.”

This was done to comply with House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161 that were enacted by the 2020 Virginia General Assembly requiring local school boards to adopt policies consistent with the VDOE’s model policies by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

Board chair and Ward 2 board member Amy Phillips and at-large board member Carrie Johnson were absent from the June 17 virtual meeting due to family obligations.

Prior to the vote Ward 6 board member Jerry McCreary spoke in opposition to the policy updates.

“I certainly agree that every student deserves respect and an education without harassment, but these policies, as presented by the Virginia Department of Education, go way beyond addressing those issues,” he said.

McCreary said he would challenge that the policy updates go to the point of saying that simple disagreement with the viewpoint inherent to the new updates would be considered harassment.

One example of a model policy from “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools,” reads as follows: “Schools shall allow students to use a name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence. 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 VDOE document provides rationale for this model policy by noting that research — the source for which was cited — has shown that transgender youth with supportive families experience a 52% decrease in recent suicidal thoughts and 46% decrease in suicide attempts and that “chosen name used in more contexts was associated with lower depression, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior.”

McCreary mentioned presenting changes to the policy updates in connection with a public hearing on the matter.

Ward 1 board member Robert Holt said, “The state law has already been changed. That’s not an option. We can’t do anything about that. What (these policy updates do) is align our policies through the efforts of (Virginia School Boards Association’s) advice to comply with state law.”

Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling said she has come to the same conclusion as Holt.

“The state law changed because of the Supreme Court’s decision, so this went all the way up, and then it came back down,” she said. “So it’s going to be completely up to the board, but the policy has already changed at the state level.

“Now, if Mr. McCreary is asking for a public hearing for families to come out or parents to come out to have a voice, I think that is something that we could definitely arrange,” she added. “However, it wouldn’t change what’s coming down from the state and what’s already in our policy.”

Ward 5 board member Dr. Andrea Shelton said, “So what you’re saying is it’s set in stone.”

Sterling replied, “If we don’t even pass it, and let’s just say someone comes after us legally, they have the state law to support them.”

McCreary indicated that the situation was not set in stone permanently in the sense that laws can be changed.

“My experience is that certain laws come from the federal and state government, such as this, and a lot of residents I know and I’ve talked with, they’re not even aware of all these changes because this is not something that’s really covered in the news, and they’re not going to find out about it until it’s actually enacted in the schools,” he said. “So I do understand the comments that this is already law on the Virginia state level, but I still think parents deserve a right to speak out on it prior to this coming school year, to address it.”

Holt said, “I think the place for the parents to go to express their opinion is to the legislature, not to us, because this is out of our control. The legislature has passed a law that we must follow, and these policies put us in compliance with state law, whether we agree or not. Parents can come to citizen’s time, and we would welcome them to do that, but we really have no choice in this one.”

Shelton indicated she understood McCreary’s point about awareness.

“On the local level, a lot of parents don’t know and many things are done on the state and national level that we find out after the fact,” she said.

With a public hearing, McCreary said, “The most I could hope for is that the public becomes more aware, that they can then in turn address their legislatures on the state level and make changes further. I understand a lot of this already stems from the Supreme Court, but all in all, our society, it’s the people that are ultimately the deciders, and I feel like a lot of this is not well-known.”

A link to the VDOE’s model policies can be found in the second paragraph down at www.doe.virginia.gov/support/gender-diversity/

Shelton also noted that she understood the transgender issue was a very sensitive one.

McCreary said, “To me, it’s nonsense. It’s based on a lie, basically, and people’s feelings and emotions and a personal viewpoint. I feel like imposing these policies, we’re just creating a new generation of neurotic individuals, potentially. To me, it’s extremely confusing and akin to indoctrination.”

He said he believes the more public schools concede to these types of policies, the more families will leave public schools and pursue private education.

“Again, I’m going to reiterate that everyone deserves respect and access to education that addresses a way to succeed in life, to be self-sufficient,” he said. “But this kind of policies and legislation go way beyond that.”

At the end of the discussion, Shelton made two motions, the first to adopt the policy updates. The motion passed 4-1, with McCreary as the lone dissenting vote.

Then, Shelton made a motion that a public hearing be held. This motion failed, 3-2, with Holt, Ward 3 board member Tonya Smith and Ward 4 board member Marchelle F. Williams voting against it.