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After hearing from a large crowd of approximately 500 people, the Augusta County School Board in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley unanimously voted against adopting state-recommended guidance regarding transgender students, following the lead of the Russell County School Board, which also rejected the state’s new policies.
The board met in late July to consider whether or not to adopt the model policies recently released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). This document calls for, among other things, eliminating many gender-specific activities, allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, hiding a student’s transgender status from parents, and even allowing transgender students to stay in the same room as students of the opposite biological sex on overnight trips.
Most attendees were opposed to the policies. One opponent, Terrence Williams, said, “Why accept this government overreach? Why open this Pandora’s Box? Why a[sic] few students’ comfort is more important than a vast majority of students’ discomfort?”
Beth Jenkins said, “I believe parents want to have your backs if you stand up and vote no to the liberal agenda.” She continued, “They do not trust the government. They want to send their children to public school, but they will not be told how to raise their children.”
Board member John Ocheltree said that while he believes that no children should be bullied or harassed, he agreed with the objections to the state’s approach to the issue. “Like many parents and grandparents of Augusta County, the Virginia Department of Education policy does not sit well with me,” he said.
The school board determined that the school district’s existing anti-discrimination policies on the basis of sex are in compliance with federal and state law and unanimously voted to reject the model policies. When they did, the crowd, many of whom were dressed in red to show solidarity in their opposition to the new guidance, gave them a standing ovation.
Augusta County’s decision comes shortly after the Russell County School Board in Southwest Virginia unanimously rejected both the new mandated state policy on transgenders, as well as the teaching of Critical Race Theory. “I was elected by the people of this community and I intend to stand up to protect every kid and do the will of the people of Russell County — and not that of an overreaching state government,” school board member Bob Gibson said in a statement to a local television station.
Josh Hetzler, an attorney from the Founding Freedoms Law Center, which is challenging the constitutionality of the VDOE’s guidance in federal court, told the Russell County School Board that the new model policies themselves violate “various state and federal laws, including infringing upon numerous fundamental rights of students, parents, and teachers.”
The VDOE responded to the Augusta County School Board action with what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat of legal action. James E. Lane, the superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education wrote,
“With respect to content of local policies, VDOE’s model policies extend beyond just compliance with nondiscrimination laws to cover matters related to student records, student privacy, bullying and harassment, dress codes, and participation in school activities, among other required topics. Therefore, nondiscrimination policies alone may be insufficient to meet the full scope of this legal mandate.”
Lane added, “The requirement that local school boards adopt policies on the treatment of transgender students consistent with VDOE guidance by the 2021-2022 school year was codified by legislation[sic] action. Like all other mandates on local school boards resulting from General Assembly action, local school boards must fulfill this directive in order to be in compliance with state law. Local school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance.”
Lane admitted that “no state funding is tied to the legislative mandate.” However, he warned, “Noncompliance may still be costly for local school boards due to civil litigation or other associated liabilities.”
He further explained that Section 22.1-87 of the Code of Virginia does provide that “(a)ny parent, custodian, or legal guardian of a pupil attending the public schools in a school division who is aggrieved by an action of the school board may, within thirty days after such action, petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to review the action of the school board. Local school boards should consider these indirect costs in evaluating the consequences of inaction.”
Lane’s words are a warning, if not an outright threat, to coerce school boards to put the interests of a few over the interests of many. School boards, like so many other institutions, have been intimidated into furthering the agenda of the LGBT lobby. So make no mistake: Lane’s prediction will likely come to fruition, whether the legal challenge be an organic complaint or a manufactured one.
Hats off to the Augusta County and Russell County school boards for protecting students from not only discomfort, but potential trauma and abuse. And let’s hope other parents, school board members, legislators, and judges take note of their brave move and also stand up for the rights of students and families against powerful special interest groups.