A focus on safety in our schools can be an upsetting, but necessary, reality for parents in the Stafford County Public School district. While few would dispute the necessity of precautions like active shooter drills or policies aimed at minimizing bullying, the very idea that our children could be in danger when we drop them off at school every day is a sobering reality.

Unfortunately, many parents of LGBTQ youth must give extra weight to these concerns. Transgender youth in particular are frequently the target of bullying, and schools across the country are working to update policies to ensure that no kids are singled out or excluded because of who they are.

Recently, one Stafford County family reacted in horror when they learned their teenage daughter was forced to sit on the bleachers during an active shooter drill because the school staff could not decide what locker room the transgender student should use in an emergency situation.

No student—no family—should be forced to face such an avoidable indignity.

Thankfully, Stafford County School Board members are considering Policy 2420 that would address this problem. A sound policy like this is the best way to ensure the safety of all students.

We may never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a transgender child or their families. What we do know is that parents want what’s best for their children. Parents and families of transgender kids love them and want them to be able to succeed at school, too.

Unfortunately, hostile learning environments often mean that transgender youth face an increased risk for many of the harmful outcomes all parents fear for their children. These can range from lower grades, to dropping out of school, and even an increased risk of being homeless later in life.

The same studies that highlight the risks faced by transgender students likewise point to the benefits of showing them the same love and support all children should receive.

The 2017 GLSEN National School Climate Survey demonstrates that students attending schools with inclusive policies and other school-based supports report more positive school experiences, including lower victimization and absenteeism and higher academic achievement.

Not everyone in our community is likely to know these risks, and some may still struggle to understand transgender people altogether. For many, concepts like gender identity are still a very new topic. This knowledge gap makes the new policy in front of the School Board all the more necessary.

This policy is not, as many have characterized it, a political ideology being forced onto educators and other students. Like thousands of schools across the country, Stafford is recognizing the need to have a policy that accurately reflects the consensus of education experts nationwide.

These are not policies rushed together in a bid to please partisan audiences; they are the steps Stafford needs to bring our schools into the 21st century.

Parents and educators know that every student should have a fair opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school. Some students face greater challenges than others for a variety of reasons, and schools work to meet the needs of all students.

We hope the School Board will enact this necessary policy, one that will set a model of acceptance and support for Stafford County students.

Jessica Foster, an attorney, is a Democrat running for the House of Delegates in the 88th District. Rev. Joshua Cole is a Democrat running for the House of Delgates in the 28th District.

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