Board adopts VSBA-recommended trans policies

Published 7:37 am Monday, September 27, 2021

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The Southampton County School Board voted 6-1-1 on Sept. 13 to adopt the Virginia School Boards Association’s recommended policy updates regarding the treatment of transgender students.

The lone “no” vote was from Lynn Bradley, and William Worsham abstained from voting, noting that he agreed with the seven points about nondiscrimination but disagreed with the broadness of the policy pertaining to the use of bathroom facilities.

Donna Rountree was absent, having given notification that she would not be able to attend or participate in the board’s Sept. 13 meeting.

Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn reintroduced the topic of transgender policies at the meeting, stating that the board had done two readings of the proposed transgender policies. 

Deborah Goodwyn

“Remember that our proposal is to adopt the transgender policy that has been presented by the Virginia School Boards Association,” she said. “So school board members have had time to read that policy, so that’s the policy that we’re taking action on tonight is the VSBA-recommended policy for the treatment of transgender students.”

At a special called meeting Aug. 31, it was noted that the school board did not have as late a deadline to act on this matter as previously understood. It had been thought that the board would have the 2021-22 school year during which to implement its transgender policy, but the board learned this would need to be done much sooner. 

The school board also determined that the VSBA-recommended policies, while not equal to the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies, are consistent with them and thus satisfy the new state law.

Board member Denise Bunn made it clear to the many community members attending the Sept. 13 board meeting that the board was not about to adopt the exact VDOE model policies, which one public commenter had been concerned might happen.

William Worsham

“I’m still hung up on the policy that deals with facilities,” Worsham said, recalling comments he had made at the Aug. 31 meeting. “I do feel it’s too broad.” 

A discussion ensued between Worsham and Goodwyn, and during it, Goodwyn repeated something Worsham had highlighted, noting that Southampton County Public Schools has a policy stating it will provide single-restroom use for any student that is uncomfortable using a multi-user bathroom. 

“And I’m saying that the policy that we’re going to adopt tonight is too broad in those terms,” he replied.

“OK, so what do you want our policy to say?” Goodwyn asked.

“As I said before, on page 18, about midway down, where it talks about single-user restrooms commensurate with the size of the school, I think if that is put in there, I think it tightens up that broadness of that policy,” he said.

“So it’s already in there,” Goodwyn responded. “If the policy says that ‘taking into account existing school facilities, administrators should take steps to designate gender-inclusive or single-use restrooms commensurate with the size of the school,’ we’ve already said we’re going to do that.”

Bunn addressed Worsham’s concerns about a broad policy.

“If we need to come back at some point and drill something down that we need to, I’m OK with the broad policy as long as we’re meeting the letter of the law,” she said.

Then Worsham expanded on his point with a specific hypothetical example.

“Once we adopt this policy, in its broadness, if we should have an incident in the school where we have a little boy go in a little girls’ restroom, declaring that he’s now a girl, or a little girl go in a little boys’ restroom, declaring she’s a boy, we’re going to have a difficult time going back and changing that policy,” he said. “And I think if we try to change it at that point, I think we’re going to open ourselves up to some legal action. I really do.”

Goodwyn said, “And I think, Mr. Worsham, you’re not understanding what we mean by transgender, because we’re not saying in any policy that a person can come in and declare ‘I’m a girl’ one day and a boy the next day.

“When we talk about transgender identity, we’re talking about how a person consistently lives his or her life, so a transgender person would behave in that gender at all times,” she continued. “So I don’t think you can say we can have a little girl going into a boys’ bathroom. I think that if you just look at the definition of what we mean by gender identity that we’re not talking about something that a person can change daily. It’s the way a person consistently lives his or her life.”

Worsham reiterated that his point is that if the scenario he described should happen, “we’re opening ourselves to legal action.”

“OK, then,” Goodwyn said. “Point taken.”

The roll-call vote took place shortly thereafter.