The Stafford County School Board surprised many in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting by again delaying a scheduled vote on proposed revisions to the school division’s nondiscrimination policy that would include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Hartwood District representative Holly Hazard’s motion to amend the agenda for the meeting by removing the vote was met with cries of “No!” and “Now is the time!” from members of the packed audience.
Hazard requested that the agenda items be removed “until legal review has been completed by an attorney selected by the school board.”
The board asked for legal review of the policies at its last meeting June 26. At the time, Chairwoman Patricia Healy indicated that there would be enough time between that meeting and last night’s meeting for this to be completed.
However, Aquia District representative Irene Egan said Tuesday that she still did not have answers to questions she has about the policies.
“I have no information,” she said. “Ms. Hazard said she’s got no information. This is all we asked for and I still don’t have it. I want the good, the bad and the ugly. We have a fiduciary responsibility and we have to abide by that.”
Vice Chair and Falmouth District representative Sarah Chase, who co-sponsored the policy revisions along with Griffis–Widewater District representative Jamie Decatur, said she was concerned about the “open-ended” nature of the request to delay the vote.
She said she feels frustration over the fact that the board has scheduled several work sessions on the policy revisions, both of which were cut significantly short or canceled.
“I’ll respectfully say that I’m talking about my feelings, not what people are actually trying to do, and I feel like if something is a priority, than I make time for it,” she said. “The safety of Stafford County Public School children should be our priority.”
The policy changes under consideration include revisions to the school division’s existing equal employment, nondiscrimination and anti-retaliation policy and the introduction of a new “equal educational opportunity” policy for students.
The existing equal employment policy would be expanded to state that the board will not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity—along with race, sex, age, color, religion, national origin, political affiliation or disability.
The proposed new equal educational opportunity policy for students includes the same language and states that, “Educational programs shall be designed to meet the varying needs of all students.”
“It is the intent of the School Board of Stafford County that every policy, practice, regulation, and procedure shall reflect this commitment. Behavior that is not unlawful may nevertheless be unacceptable for the learning environment,” it continues.
The student policy does not lay out specific plans for implementation, but leaves it up to the superintendent. It states that the superintendent’s plans shall be “shared with the board for input and review.”The board has been considering the language that was to be voted on Tuesday since late May.
Late last year, in response to an October incident in which a transgender student at a county middle school was prevented from entering either the boys’ or girls’ locker rooms during a lock-down drill, Superintendent Scott Kizner proposed a detailed “Gender Identity and Expression” policy which laid out specific ways transgender students should be accommodated.
That policy was shelved in favor of the policies now under consideration.
Currently, 13 of the 133 school districts in Virginia have nondiscrimination protections for students and employees that include sexual orientation and gender identity. These include school districts in Northern Virginia, as well as Albemarle, Charlottesville, Manassas, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
The board agreed that Healy and Chase would collect “up to two” questions about the nondiscrimination policies from each board member and present them to an outside attorney—the suggestion was Jennifer Parrish of the Fredericksburg law firm of Parrish, Snead, Franklin and Simpson—with the request that they be answered in the form of a legal opinion.
“As needed” work sessions will be held on the information provided and a vote is now scheduled to take place Sept. 10.