Some Stafford County School Board members want to put the brakes on a proposed policy that would let transgender students use the bathroom and locker room of their choice.
School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy said at a meeting Tuesday that she wants to hear more input from the Stafford community before taking action. She referred to one parent’s concern that the controversial proposal would “fall under the holiday radar.”
“We’ve heard a lot of good comments tonight on both sides of the issue,” Healy said, referring to public comments earlier in the meeting. “We need to take those comments … and we need to look at, is there a way to craft this policy so that it meets the needs of most? It’s not going to meet everybody’s needs because this is not an issue that … everybody will agree on.”
School Board member Dewayne McOsker floated the idea of sending out surveys on the issue to parents.
None of the School Board members expressed flat-out support or opposition to the proposal, which they will discuss again Jan. 8. They could take action Jan. 22 at the earliest.
Superintendent Scott Kizner said he’s not opposed to a delay, but emphasized that the policy protects a minority group, perhaps at the expense popular opinion locally. “I respect that you guys even gave me permission to put this on the agenda,” Kizner said. “A lot of school divisions would not do that.”
He added later: “They are minorities, and if there was a [referendum], I suspect the vote would be to not support this policy.”
Stafford would be the first Virginia school system with a formal policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities. Statewide, some schools do have unwritten policies letting transgender students use the bathroom of their choice.
Some parents have raised concerns that the school system would try to indoctrinate children opposed to the policy. The proposed policy states that concerned students could 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.”
Healy wondered whether the policy could give parents the power to prohibit schools from broaching the topic with their children. “There are certain things that are within the realm of responsibility of parents and not necessarily the schools,” she said.
Kizner said that might make matters worse by creating the perception that transgender students are dangerous or should not be talked about. A better idea might be to contact parents whose children ask about the policy and have a sit-down with the whole family rather than just the child, he said.
School Board member Jamie Decatur also noted that some of the policy’s wording is vague. For instance, one section states that teachers “should” refer to transgender students by their preferred name or pronoun.
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.
The School Board 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.
More than 20 people weighed in on the controversial policy during the School Board meeting’s public-comment period. Fourteen of them—including a young child with a transgender sister—expressed support for the proposal while eight opposed it.
Some of the supporters said the policy would make the county’s public schools inclusive for all students and put Stafford on the right side of history. They noted the high suicide rates among transgender high-schoolers who often feel ostracized at school.
Several opponents said they do not view transgender people as sexual predators, but raised concerns about their daughters seeing male genitalia in locker rooms. Some also felt the policy’s proponents unfairly demonized the critics.
Jessica Foster said the policy would reflect well on Stafford and set an example for the rest of the state. “Opposition to this policy is grounded on fear, much like men feared the women vote, much like when whites feared sharing the water fountains” with black people, she said.
Thomas Taylor, who opposes the policy, said he worries the proposed policy could expose his children to the “anatomy of the opposite sex.” “This is taking inclusion to a different level, which circumvents parents’ ability to determine suitability of exposure of their children at the hands of a taxpayer-funded institution.”
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.”