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School board to discuss transgender policy

While the COVID-19 pandemic kept school divisions busy making daily operating decisions in 2020, this school term, divisions around the commonwealth are faced with creating a more inclusive environment for transgender and non-binary students.

This is a requirement at the direction of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) following legislation approved by the General Assembly in 2020 to provide model policies to school boards that comply with nondiscrimination laws, maintain a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment and prevent bullying and harassment.

In early spring, the VDOE released a model policies guideline for the Treatment of Transgender Students, but school divisions may choose to adopt a stricter policy than the model.

“The 2020 legislation requires local school boards to ‘adopt policies that are consistent with but maybe more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education by the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle said.

On Monday, July 26, Lunenburg County Public School (LCPS) Superintendent Charles Berkley, Jr. did not go into details about the policy, but said the issue would be discussed at the Monday, Aug. 9 School Board meeting.

One section of the policy that has been the subject of debate for several school divisions around the states reads: “All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe and adequate so that they can comfortably and fully engage in their school programs and activities. Schools frequently maintain separate restrooms, locker rooms, or other facilities for males and females. Students should be allowed to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity.”

The policies to create a more inclusive environment for transgender and non-binary students come several years following a Virginia court case that has set precedence on how divisions address transgender and non-binary students.

In 2014 a Gloucester County High School student, Gavin Grimm, requested to use the boy’s bathroom. Grimm said he was transgender.

Grimm used the boys’ bathrooms for two months without a single problem or complaint from his classmates, teachers or administrators and with the principal’s permission.

Once angry parents learned of the situation, they demanded a change and confronted Grimm as well as school officials at contentious hearings.

According to court documents, in December 2014, Gloucester County High School officially banned him from using the boys’ bathrooms.

Grimm sued the school district, stating they violated the equal-protection clause and Title IX when it barred him from the boys’ restroom.

The ban, which also applied to locker rooms and would affect any other transgender students who came out, led to lawsuits that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After years of court hearings, In June the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept the Gloucester County School Board’s appeal.

“At the heart of this appeal is whether equal protection and Title IX can protect transgender students from school bathroom policies that prohibit them from affirming their gender,” U.S. Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote for the majority in upholding a series of federal district court decisions in favor of Grimm in 2018 and 2019. “We join a growing consensus of courts in holding that the answer is resounding yes.”

The VDOE model policy can be viewed at https://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/gender-diversity/transgender-student-model-policies.docx.