The school board in Fairfax County, Va., took a stand Thursday night, voting to add "gender identity" to the nondiscrimination policy currently enforced at its schools, despite facing a standing-room-only crowd of community members who were largely opposed to the change.
In what supporters called a "powerful statement of support" for gender-nonconforming students, the board's decision requires all 198 schools within the district — which is the tenth largest in the country — to begin considering new trans-affirming policies for bathrooms and locker rooms, reports Washington, D.C.'s NBC affiliate. The district will reportedly hire a consultant to begin the process.
Those opposed to the change claim that the decision was a response to the district's concern that schools could lose federal funding if they did not protect students' gender identities, notes a flummoxed Fox News editorial. The change, however, was not a federal requirement, as it has been presented at times.
In December, the U.S. Department of Education clarified its stance towards trans studnets, declaring that the group is protected under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Similarly, in both health and employment, the Obama administration has reversed conclusions reached under other administrations, announcing that the Department of Justice now considers "gender identity" to be inherently included in all federal protections against discrimination on the basis of sex.
In March, Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring declared that local school boards have the authority to add "gender identity" in nondiscrimination policies. But none of those motions directly compel schools to add trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
While the Fairfax school board was deluged with complaints from from parents, local church-goers, and other community members — and now faces pushback from conservatives much like that faced by school districts in Lincoln, Neb., and Minnesota — the board remains convinced they made the right move. The final vote in favor of adding gender identity to the district's nondiscrimination policy was 10-1, with one abstention, reports ThinkProgress.
"The decision by the school board to add 'gender identity' to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect," said board chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax in a statement. "This tells our students and staff that school and the [Fairfax County Public Schools] workplace are places where they can be safe from harassment and discrimination."