Newport News School Board declines to adopt state-outlined protections for transgender, nonbinary students

Newport News

UPDATE: The Newport News School Board is calling a special meeting Aug. 26 to potentially reconsider a policy that would put specific protections for transgender and nonbinary students into place.

Click here to read more.


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News School Board members are going against Virginia’s new state law requiring protections for transgender students.

As we reported earlier this month, local divisions are tasked with customizing their own plans for transgender and nonbinary students.

On Tuesday, the Newport News School Board declined to adopt the state’s guidelines.

The law passed by the General Assembly in the 2020 session creates a new statewide set of guidelines — a “model policy” — for school divisions to adopt regarding protections for transgender and nonbinary students. Divisions are now expected to adopt the new model policy before the start of this upcoming school year.

“The policy doesn’t create the concern. and if we are not prepared to deal with the concern, then we are doing our students a disservice there,” said Lisa R. Surles-Law, board vice chairman.

“Yes, the General Assembly passed a law — they passed a bad law in my opinion — but their law required us to take a vote … It does fall to us, and I don’t believe we can actually defer this responsibility by saying ‘Well the General Assembly made me do it.’ I very much believe in following the law … when the law violates the Constitution, then it’s a bad law,” said Douglas C. Brown, board chairman.

Brown said students changing their gender identity, potentially multiple times, could cause issues with student records. He also said he doesn’t impose his own religious beliefs on anyone, however, the policy and procedure imposes “a set of beliefs on everyone.”

Local Congressman Bobby Scott issued a statement on Wednesday about the meeting.

“Disappointed by this move to discriminate against transgender students & defy state/federal law. All students deserve to feel welcome at school. The Board should review the severe harm that not implementing these policy changes will have on student health & reverse its decision,” Scott tweeted.

According to WAVY sister station WRIC in Richmond, a handful of school boards have voted against adopting the new policy. Many of those are in western Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Education’s policy encourages the use of name and gender pronouns the students use, allowing them to use restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. They also can play sports and participate in other gender-specific activities.

On Tuesday, VDOE Superintendent of Instruction James Lane told WRIC the state will not penalize districts that don’t adopt the policy.

“But they face pressure of litigation from families of students who identify as transgender,” Lane said.

BELOW: Watch the full Newport News School Board meeting.

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