Hundreds of Northern Virginia residents voiced outrage last week when the Fairfax County Public School Board changed its nondiscrimination policy to include “gender identity” without consulting parents. The amended policy could allow male students who identify as female to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, among other changes.
“This isn’t over,” said former school board member Mychele Brickner. “People are very disturbed by what just happened. … They didn’t take parents into account. The fact that they passed a motion like this and created an additional protected class in the policy, and then they are going to let people see later what this means, that’s ridiculous. That’s exactly what happened with Obamacare.”
The school board voted 10-1, with one abstention, to approve the policy change during a meeting late Thursday at Luther Jackson Memorial Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.
Hundreds of parents and residents attended the meeting, saying the board approved the amendment without studying the implications of such a change. Many said the school board itself should brace for change when it’s time for re-election.
“We will remember in November!” they shouted as they stormed out of the middle school auditorium.
In a statement released shortly after the vote, board Chairwoman Tamara Derenak Kaufax applauded the measure, calling it a way to “provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect.”
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“The School Board has taken this proactive step to protect our students and staff from discrimination,” Ms. Kaufax wrote.
But Elizabeth Shultz, the only board member who voted against the amendment, chided her colleagues for pushing a political agenda without considering parents’ rights to be a part of the conversation.
“I think it is a sad statement that we can allow those decisions to be entrenched in political ideology or vague understandings of the implications of such policies,” Ms. Schultz said. “We are an education system, and we didn’t do our homework. We took the final exam and signed our name at the bottom and took some guesses.”
Some board members said the school district was required by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to add “gender identity” to the policy or else risk losing federal funds.
“The federal government has been very clear that they expect local schools to amend their policies,” said John Foster, division counsel for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Most attendees opposed the measure, but some lauded it as a crucial first step toward protecting transgendered students and faculty.
“What happened here tonight may be a big step in making sure that a whole other population doesn’t have to get up in the morning fearing facing harassment,” said Gordon Baer, co-chairman of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Virginia.
Mr. Baer said he understood that most people at the meeting opposed the board’s approval of the amendment, but he argued that setting firm gender identity language in the policy would provide support for implementing it.
Ms. Kaufax said the school system will hire a consultant to help develop regulations for the amended policy.