The Stafford County School Board will continue discussing a proposal to add gender identity to the division’s nondiscrimination policies.
The board had scheduled a work session between a 6 p.m. special meeting and a 7 p.m. regular meeting Tuesday to discuss revisions to the division’s nondiscrimination policies, but the work session never happened because end-of-year presentations from two advisory committees took up all but five minutes of the hour.
“Clearly, we’re not going to have a work session in five minutes,” Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy said. Discussion about the nondiscrimination policies instead occurred when the item came up on the agenda, at the end of a long list of information items.
The first work session on the policy, scheduled for the previous meeting, was cut to 10 minutes because a closed meeting ran long.
The policy changes 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 revised policy, first introduced last month, was meant to apply to both students and employees, but board members asked that it be separated into two policies.
Late last year, Superintendent Scott Kizner introduced a “Gender Identity and Expression” policy following an October incident in which a transgender girl at a county middle school was prevented from entering the girls’ or boys’ locker rooms during a lockdown drill.
That proposal stated specific ways schools should accommodate transgender students, but it was shelved in favor of the more general nondiscrimination policies currently under consideration.
The policies did not come up for discussion Tuesday night until about 10 p.m., when most of the audience that had gathered earlier had left.
During the discussion, Kizner said he considers the policies “a foundation.”
“We believe that if the board would adopt this, it’s the beginning of a pathway to elaborate more of the regulatory implementation of these policies,” he said. “From our research, looking at other school divisions, often they start with this and then expand into more specifics.”
School Board members Sarah Chase, Holly Hazard, Jamie Decatur and Pamela Yeung appear ready to support the policies, although Hazard said she would like the language to be even more inclusive.
During public comments earlier in the evening, Stafford Education Association President Christian Peabody presented the results of a survey the association conducted, which found that nearly 92 percent of teachers support the policy revisions.
Several students, a teacher and a community member also spoke in support of the policy during public comments.
“Prejudice and discrimination is learned, not taught,” said Jaxon Sheriff–Parker, a Stafford resident who identified himself as a transgender man. “When we fail to protect vulnerable populations, we are passively approving prejudice and discrimination, especially when we take actions to prevent such protections from taking place.”
Molly Murillo, an eighth-grader at Dixon–Smith Middle School, asked the board why it hasn’t yet approved an expanded anti-discrimination policy.
“Our students are not being protected,” she said.
Two board members, Aquia representative Irene Egan and George Washington representative Dewayne McOsker, were not present for the discussion. Egan was absent Tuesday and McOsker left the meeting early after announcing that he will not seek reelection to the school board in November.