A proposed policy to protect transgender and gender-expansive students will be on the Albemarle County School Board’s July 8 meeting agenda, in accordance with Virginia statutory law that all school divisions in the Commonwealth enact such a policy prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year. The division’s draft policy is consistent with the guidance provided by the Virginia Department of Education to all public school divisions in the state.
Among the state-mandated protections in the policy are the prevention of bullying and harassment of students who identify as transgender, the protection of student privacy, the confidentiality of sensitive information, enforcement of dress codes based on sexual identity, and preservation of the right of students to participate in school activities and events that align with their sexual identity.
The school division’s proposed policy also aligns with federal case law as set forth in the recent Grimm v. Gloucester County Public Schools decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to deny an appeal of that ruling. The Fourth Circuit held that the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents a school division from discriminating against a student by denying them the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
“Moving forward with this policy is about something far more important than meeting a legal requirement,” said Kevin Kirst, the division’s Executive Director of Special Education and Student Services. “This policy is about putting the supports in place that allow all students to flourish. Students learn and develop best when they are in a safe, trustworthy, enriching environment. That’s our responsibility as public educators, to provide such a system. This policy does that,” he said.
The proposed policy states, “Students must be permitted to participate in physical education and intramural sports in accordance with the student’s gender identity that is consistently asserted at school. Athletic participation regulated by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) or another organization, such as the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association (VASRA), as well as middle school athletics, shall be in compliance with policies and rules outlined by those organizations.”
The school board is receiving the proposed Policy on the Treatment of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students for information next week on July 8. The division has scheduled an online public information session on the policy for members of the community at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 28. Members of the community will be able to view the presentation via livestream. Links to access the livestream and to submit questions or comments will be shared with the community next week.
All questions and comments will be distributed to the school board prior to their August 12 business meeting, when they are planning to vote on the policy’s adoption. Questions will be answered and published on the school division’s website prior to the August 12 meeting. The school board’s vote will follow public comment.
In its introduction, the division’s draft states that it is the policy of the school division “to maintain a safe and supportive school environment for all students free from harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying and free from discrimination because of actual or perceived race, color, creed, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship/immigration status, religion, biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, or any other protected class outlined in policy AC, Nondiscrimination.”
“Educators play an essential role in creating a supportive school culture and advocating for the well-being of students,” it adds. The policy would help schools ensure the educational and social integration of transgender and gender-expansive students while keeping learning environments safe and free from discrimination and harassment.
Although the General Assembly enacted legislation this year requiring that all public school divisions in the Commonwealth have protections in place for transgender students, Kirst said the school division’s research, outreach, and policy development began more than two years ago.
An essential part of the policy is its requirement for training all staff members in its implementation. That includes, the drafts states, teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, and health staff, and in orientation programs for new employees. That training, the policy adds, shall include “ongoing professional development to build the skills of all staff members to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying, harassment, and discrimination.”
Resources would include communication strategies with students and parents on gender identity, gender expression, and student privacy; prevention and intervention strategies to combat in-person and online bullying; school planning guides; classroom management practices; and curriculum and support for a student’s safe transitioning plan as provided for by a medical professional.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer