The Albemarle County School Board said today that it “respectfully but vigorously” disagrees with a newly proposed state policy that would reduce protections for transgender and gender-expansive students. Several elements of the proposed policy are in conflict with the school board’s August 2021 Policy on the Treatment of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students, which was adopted in accordance with guidance provided in 2021 by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
“It is unfortunate that the proposed policies were not research-based and are without the input of school divisions and the population most directly and severely affected. We regret that it ignores the experience of divisions that have enacted policies to protect the well-being and the lives of all students,” the board said.
Board members urged the VDOE to revise its proposed policies and to consult with local school divisions. It called upon state officials to “support locally elected school boards in the exercise of their constitutional responsibilities to provide all students with a safe and engaging public education, one that unleashes their highest personal development potential.”
Among the controversial mandates in the state’s proposal is the requirement of prior parental approval when a student requests to be called by a name that aligns with their gender identity. The division’s policy does not require prior approval. The state’s proposal also would require school divisions to restrict the use of restrooms, locker rooms, and participation in activities to a student’s sex at birth. This is contrary to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that existing civil rights law prohibits sex discrimination against people who are transgender. Similarly, state law requires that a person not be discriminated against based on gender identity.
The board wrote, “It is in honest and collaborative partnerships with parents that the highest levels of individual and collective success are delivered. We always must seek out and benefit from parental engagement and join with families and highly credentialed professionals to achieve the best interests of a child’s safety, health, and personal development.”
“Wonderful would be a world in which family relationships are constructed upon irrevocable and enduring trust, care and support,” the board wrote, adding, “We live, however, in the reality that some relationships are imperfect and even harmful, including, on occasion, relationships in our homes. Our response must be to honor personal choice, not the imposition of outside opinions that decide for a child in whom they are allowed to confide or from whom to seek healing.”
In a statement posted on the Public Comment Forum hosted on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website, the school board said, “The proposed policies should more accurately be titled, ‘Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity and Respect of Some Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools,’ dismissive as it is of students who identify as transgender or gender-expansive.”
“Educators play an essential role in creating a supportive school culture and advocating for the safety and health of all students,” the school board emphasized. It is important for school staff, students and parents to be aware that transgender and gender-expansive students may be at a higher risk for being left out, victimized, and bullied because of bias and misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives.
In its comments to the VDOE, the board noted that “Schools, as caregivers, must not be limited in their ability to deliver care and support, no more so than they are restricted in their responsibility and obligation to recognize and end any abuse of a child, whether it occurs in the home or in a school.”
The school board also sharply disagreed with the state’s approach, insisting on a policy directive that is in opposition to the principle of local control. “The proposed policies unilaterally would usurp the ability of school boards to represent the physical, social and emotional health of those they are elected to serve. It would require adherence to the views of those dissociated from the local communities they seek to control, elevating the risk of harm to children in crisis,” the board maintained.
Underscoring that the state’s proposal was developed unilaterally, not in consultation with local school boards and communities, the school board said that the policy Albemarle County Public Schools adopted last August was formulated over several years and in consultation with those most affected. It found a “reasonable balance” between the protection of vulnerable students and parental engagement, demonstrating the “merit of locally-developed and approved policies,” the board said.
“As an example, our schools will follow parental preference in the name by which their child is known, but parental approval beforehand is not mandated. We support safe, non-stigmatizing accommodations for any student who is uncomfortable sharing a sleeping area, shower, bathroom, or any sex-segregated facility with a transgender or gender-expansive student,” the board pointed out.
“It will always be the responsibility and the privilege of Albemarle County Public Schools to maintain a safe and supportive school environment for all students, free from harassment, intimidation, and bullying and discrimination. And to do so with policies and practices that call from within us the highest ethical standards, the greatest levels of responsibility, and the deepest pools of compassion,” board members concluded.
The school board’s full statement is available on our website at:
The state is accepting public comment on its proposed new policy through Wednesday, October 26, on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website at: https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/comments.cfm?GDocForumID=1953
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer