School board rejects mandatory Virginia pronoun and transgender bathroom policy
A school board rejected a required policy Thursday from the Virginia Department of Education that in part mandates administrators to refer to students by their chosen gender pronouns instead of their biological pronouns.
The Russell County school board voted unanimously to reject mandatory rule changes after residents packed into a meeting hall and expressed their displeasure with the guidelines for transgender students.
“We do not hate transgender people. We do not hate homosexual people. We do not judge them," one resident said, prompting applause. "God will judge them. We hate the sin that they live, and that is the problem that we have in the community today, is that [it is] trying to be pushed on all of our children."
The Virginia Department of Education is set to require updated educational guidelines pertaining to transgender students following approval from the commonwealth's legislature in 2020. The policies, which begin at schools in the fall, mandate that administrators allow students to use the name and gender pronouns that align with their identity "without requiring any particular substantiating evidence," according to Virginia's model policies.
The order also directs that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their preferred gender.
Josh Hetzler, an attorney for the Founding Freedoms Law Center, also took to the podium to discuss the potential legal issues associated with the guidance. His organization has challenged the rule changes in court, he said.
“The policies themselves violated various state and federal laws, including infringing upon numerous fundamental rights of students, parents, and teachers," he said. "Because of how legally problematic these model policies are, not to mention the likelihood of tangible harms to student’s bodily, privacy, safety, and dignity in private spaces, [the] school board simply cannot adopt policies consistent with the existing model policy.”
Bob Gibson, one of the school board members who voted to reject the proposal, cited an "overreaching government" as a reason for his decision.
“I was elected by the people of this community, and I intend to stand up to protect every kid and do the will of the people of Russell County — and not that of an overreaching state government,” he said in a statement. “The most important thing we can do is protect every kid and to provide them with a safe and secure place to learn."
The Virginia Department of Education alluded that the school board's move was likely in violation of the law.
"The 2020 legislation (House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161) requires local school boards to 'adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education' by the start of the 2021-2022 school year," a spokesperson told the Washington Examiner in an email. "It is the responsibility of the local school board to follow the law."
"It is the responsibility of the local school board to meet the requirements of the 2020 legislation," the spokesperson added.
The commonwealth has become a flashpoint in the United States for fights against government and school boards over transgender accommodations and anti-racism curriculum, which some have likened to critical race theory.
Parents in Rockingham County spoke out against the pronoun and bathroom changes Monday.
“Biologically, scientifically — when a child is born a male, he never, ever, will biologically or scientifically be female," a man told the school board. "That’s the facts. When a girl is born a girl, she can never biologically or scientifically become a boy. ... You can argue it. You can yell about it. You can fuss about it. You can do anything you want about it, but those are the facts.”
Another threatened to withdraw her son from the school if the policies were adopted.
“My son will not be attending Rockingham County schools," she said. "I will choose to homeschool him if this policy is adopted. It will not be easy to homeschool, as I’m sure it will be very financially tough, but I will stand for what is right.”