Colman Domingo
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Virginia Schools Defy State Mandate for Trans-Inclusive Policies

Virginia

Some Virginia school districts are defying a state law designed to assure that transgender students are protected from discrimination and harassment.

Virginia enacted the law last year, requiring the state’s Department of Education to publish model policies, which it has done, and mandating that school districts adopt policies consistent with the model by the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. But some citizens and local school boards are resistant, with the sticking point usually being access to restrooms and other single-sex facilities, which they claim, without evidence, will lead to sexual assault.

The model policies address much more than restroom access — they call on districts to use students’ preferred names and pronouns, adopt gender-neutral dress codes, and take other steps to assure the safety of trans students. But restroom use remains the most controversial issue. The model says trans students should have access to the restrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity, while noting that some will prefer a more private option and that such options should be available to both trans and cisgender students so no one is singled out for stigma.

The Chesapeake School Board failed to adopt a set of trans-inclusive policies Monday night after no one seconded board member Patricia King’s motion for a vote in favor of them, The Virginian-Pilot reports. More than 70 people addressed the board that evening, most of them speaking about the trans policies, which have been a “lightning rod” at board meetings all summer, the paper notes.

One woman who spoke said that letting trans and cis girls share restrooms and locker rooms would lead to “gang rape,” although research has shown that trans access is not related to sexual assault. Others said that requiring the use of students’ preferred names and pronouns would undermine parents’ authority.

The Newport News School Board voted down inclusive policies last week but decided to hold a special meeting this Thursday to reconsider the matter. It’s one of the largest districts in the state to refuse to follow the law. The Virginia Beach School Board drew 50 people to speak on the issue at its meeting Tuesday; one mother of an elementary school student said she was worried about her daughter being in a locker room and seeing “something she shouldn’t see,” TV station WAVY reports. The board is expected to vote on its policies September 14.

The Loudoun County School Board approved inclusive policies in early August by a 7-2 vote. One of the conservative members who opposed the move, Jeff Morse, called the policies “divisive, antifamily, antiprivacy, antiteacher,” according to The Washington Post.

Supporters of trans-inclusive policies have not only state law but the courts on their side. The Supreme Court this year let stand an appeals court’s ruling that the school board in Gloucester County, Va., violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution by not letting trans student Gavin Grimm use the boys’ restroom.

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