Transgender students in Stafford County Public Schools could use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities under a proposed policy that would be the first of its kind in Virginia.

The School Board will hear a presentation on Superintendent Scott Kizner’s proposal at a meeting Tuesday, but is not scheduled to take formal action until next month at the earliest. The policy’s stated purpose is to “foster an educational environment that is safe, welcoming and free from discrimination for all students, regardless of the student’s gender identity or expression.”

Teachers would also be required to use transgender students’ preferred names and pronouns under the policy. That is a timely topic, as a West Point high school teacher was fired just last week for refusing to use male pronouns when referring to a transgender boy.

Kizner said in an interview that he was “very comfortable” with the proposed policy, which was drafted in consultation with outside counsel in an effort to avoid legal problems down the line.

“What this policy really does, in many ways, is to affirm what most school divisions are already doing,” he said, noting that some Stafford schools already let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice.

None of Virginia’s school systems have formal bathroom or locker room policies for transgender students, though some schools throughout the state let them use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities, Equality Virginia Director James Parrish said in an interview two months ago. Fairfax County, for example, has a nondiscrimination policy that does not specifically address the issue, but officials say it effectively allows transgender students to use the restroom of their choice.

Kizner’s policy recommendation stems from a widely criticized incident Sept. 28 in which an unidentified county middle school prevented a transgender girl from joining her classmates in the girls’ locker room during an active-shooter drill. The girl sat alone in a nearby hallway because she is transgender, according to Equality Stafford, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Kizner personally apologized to the student and said he would come up with policy changes, if necessary, to rectify the problem.

The superintendent’s proposal would be a dramatic shift for a School Board that voted three years ago to prohibit the same transgender girl, then a Hartwood Elementary School student, from using the girls’ restroom. Hartwood previously let her use the girls’ bathroom, but some parents complained that allowing students to go to the restroom of their gender identity, rather than biological sex, opened the door for sexual predators and violated other students’ privacy rights.

The newly proposed policy would not let students go back-and-forth on their use of restrooms or locker rooms.

Transgender students would have to show a “consistent and uniform assertion” of their gender identities or other proof that those identities are “sincerely held,” the policy states. Confirmation of their gender identities could come in the form of letters from parents, doctors, school employees, relatives or friends. Transgender students could also submit letters from health care providers verifying their gender-affirming medical care, though that would not be a requirement.

Under the policy, school employees could question a student’s stated gender identity only if there is a “credible basis” to believe it is being used for “some improper purpose.”

Students who feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom and locker room with their transgender peers could choose an “alternative option” such as a single-stall restroom, according to the policy. They could also ask to speak with counselors or administrators, who may “address the discomfort and foster an understanding of gender identity to create a school culture that respects and values all students,” the policy states.

Kizner elaborated on that language in an interview, saying: “It’s pretty much stating what we already do. If a student has an issue … they’re encouraged and they’re welcome to talk to an administrator or a school counselor.”

The policy, he said, strives to meet the needs of everyone, not just transgender students. “There’s history in Stafford on this issue,” he said. “It needs to be addressed one way or another, and I think this is ... an important step.”

In a brief interview, School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy said she did not expect the School Board to act on the policy until Jan. 22 at the earliest. She declined to offer her opinion of the proposal, saying: “I don’t have any thoughts at this time.”

The Trump administration last year rescinded federal guidance from the Obama administration directing public schools to let students use bathrooms that align with their gender identities. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the federal government should let states and individual school systems decide how to best accommodate transgender students.

Lesley Cook of Equality Stafford lauded Kizner’s policy proposal, which she said could potentially save lives. A licensed psychologist, she’s lost transgender patients to suicide.

The policy may make Stafford a trailblazer locally, Cook said, but it also puts the county more in line with the national trend.

“This policy is not trying to litigate whether someone should change their belief system,” she said. “It is designed to make sure all students are able to access their curriculum safely and equally and be free of harassment.”

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402 jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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