Virginia Beach school board postpones vote on transgender model policy

Education

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Time is running out for public schools across Virginia to adopt a non-discrimination policy for transgender and non-binary students.

New state law requires local school boards to have the plan finalized by the first day of class. Some schools in Hampton Roads like Portsmouth and Hampton have complied, others like Chesapeake rejected the state’s model.

On Tuesday, the policy was a topic of debate during Virginia Beach Schools’ board meeting. However, ultimately, there was no outcome.

The board could not vote on the non-discrimination model Tuesday. The policy was listed as an action item in the agenda but because of the school board’s by-laws, every policy must be reviewed before it can be voted on in a future meeting. The board is expected to vote on the model policy during its Sept. 14 meeting.

Even without a decision, parents quickly took to the podium to express their opinions.

State legislators passed a law that requires districts to adopt policies designed to protect transgender and nonbinary students, and local school boards must vote on the policy changes by the first day of school.

Some changes include calling students by their name and gender of choice and allowing students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match the child’s gender identity.

Rows of empty seats, mandatory masks and a single-file socially distanced line of speakers did not stop nearly 50 Virginia Beach parents from addressing board members on the Virginia Department of Education’s model non-discrimination policy for transgender and nonbinary students.

“They are people just like you and I. There should be no question they should be treated with love and respect just like everybody else,” said one speaker in favor of the policy.

While there was some shouting from the occasional speaker, many were calm as they expressed their concerns.

“The idea of her having to be in a locker room and maybe see something she shouldn’t see, doesn’t sit quite right with me,” said the mother of an elementary school student.

Virginia Beach now joins Chesapeake and Newport News — neither of which have policies in place. Chesapeake’s school board did not adopt the state’s policies when they met on Monday. Newport News declined to adopt the policies at an earlier meeting, but also is holding a special meeting Thursday to potentially reconsider the matter.

Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) told 10 On Your Side it’s a matter of time before all school systems will have to enact protection guidelines.

“I would hope once we as a commonwealth … have already created that kind of statute that embraces the humanity of every single student … that the school systems throughout the commonwealth recognize that as well,” Mullin said.

According to Stacie Walls, CEO of the LGBT Life Center, they are seeing some boards across the state decline to adopt the policies.

However, the policies are critical for student health, Walls said.

“It’s hard to justify why we don’t want to do this work. And so I think it’s just most important to say that these policies and this effort saves lives. There’s no arguing that. It will save lives, and so focusing on our kids and whatever it is they need. When we’re debating our most vulnerable students and their needs for protections, it’s very difficult to see why we wouldn’t make every effort to support them,” Walls said.

The state superintendent of education also issued a memo July 30, which essentially said the Virginia Department of Education won’t implement repercussions for school divisions that don’t adopt the policies, but school divisions could face lawsuits from students and their families.

The Virginia Beach School Board’s decisions on COVID policies have also been controversial lately. Earlier this month, one meeting got heated, as parents and school leaders debated masks for the school year.
Some parents yelled and one woman gave the finger to the board before getting removed.

The school board’s chairwoman sent out warning letters to two women.

Since then, the governor is requiring all K-12 students to wear masks in school and on buses.

Read the full agenda and meeting bylaws here.

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