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FCPS board open to revisiting trans policies, if needed

The Franklin City School Board stated that, if necessary, it will revisit the topic of transgender policies after a recent memo from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James F. Lane has suggested local nondiscrimination policies may not be enough to meet the requirements of state law.

James F. Lane

The school board for Franklin City Public Schools voted 4-1 on June 17 to adopt policy updates relevant to the treatment of transgender students in Virginia’s public 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 Virginia Department of Education’s model policies by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

The Franklin City School Board’s statement about revisiting the policies was in response to a question from The Tidewater News following recent developments on the topic of transgender policies that took place at a Southampton County School Board meeting.

The Southampton County School Board had been expecting to take action on the issue in its Aug. 9 meeting, but before discussion began, Southampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon recalled to board members how she had mentioned during their July meeting that the Virginia School Boards Association had, in effect, said SCPS already had policies in its policy manual that would serve the purpose of addressing its transgender students.

Shannon then referenced Lane’s July 30 memo from the VDOE.

“(The VDOE) stated that pretty much what VSBA is saying is not consistent with (the VDOE’s) model policies,” she said.

In his memo, Lane said, “With respect to content of local policies, VDOE’s model policies extend beyond just compliance with nondiscrimination laws to cover matters related to student records, student privacy, bullying and harassment, dress codes and participation in school activities, among others. These topics were statutorily mandated to be included in the VDOE guidance. Therefore, nondiscrimination policies alone may be insufficient to meet the full scope of this legal mandate.”

Shannon said she wanted to highlight this because if the Southampton County School Board were to approve the policies that she had presented in its July meeting, “then the board bears the burden of a potential lawsuit should someone decide to sue because we would not be compliant.”

When the board chair asked for her recommendation in light of this, Shannon highlighted another key quote from Lane’s memo — ”These policies must also be adopted no later than the 2021-2022 school year.”

She said previous language from the VDOE had indicated that transgender policies must be approved by September.

“So what he did was he gave us a little bit more time,” she said, referencing Lane. “And I think with him giving us that information just a week or so ago, we really probably need to talk more with our attorney and see if our attorney will draft up policies that are consistent with what the VDOE is asking in accordance with the House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161.”

The Southampton County School Board followed her recommendation and voted unanimously to table the decision to adopt the policies presented to it in July. 

Robert Holt

Prior to the Franklin City School Board’s 4-1 vote at its June 17 meeting, Ward 1 board member Robert Holt said, “What (these policy updates do) is align our policies through the efforts of VSBA’s advice to comply with state law.”

In its Aug. 26 statement to The Tidewater News, the FCPS School Board said it “values the guidance and insight of Dr. Lane, VDOE, as well as the Virginia School Boards Association. All policy recommendations previously adopted were proposed by VSBA and vetted through their legal team. Should it become apparent that further policy changes are necessary in order to be compliant with state code, statutes or regulations, the board certainly will revisit the topic as necessary.”