- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 31, 2015

Five months after the Fairfax County School board hastily moved to change its nondiscrimination policy to include “gender identity” without consulting parents, a series of new documents has revealed that school administrators had already begun implementing controversial transgender policy changes before the vote even took place.

On the night of the May 7 vote, school board members informed concerned parents that a consultant would be hired to advise FCPS administrators on “best practices” for implementing the new policy, which was rushed through to a vote in the spring.

But several emails and documents obtained by concerned parents through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Judicial Watch this week, revealed that on the night of the vote, school administrators had already hired a consultant.

In addition, school board members have been paying the consultant with taxpayer money without a written contract.

“They have tried to hide this consultant’s identity and payment. They have been deceptive. There’s been no formal contract, it’s like they signed a contract on a cocktail napkin; now we’re going to have to FOIA a cocktail napkin,” said Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, who worked with Judicial Watch to obtain the documents.

On the night of the vote, one parent emailed school board member Ryan McElveen to make a suggestion for a potential transgender policy consultant. The emails disclosed by the FOIA show Mr. McElveen responded that “the final candidate has already been chosen. Should be officially hired in the next couple of days.”

Mr. McElveen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

Elizabeth Schultz, the FCPS board member for Springfield, Virginia, and the only board member who voted against the transgender policy amendment in May, said she was also kept in the dark about the new consultant and has yet to receive any updates on the policy changes that are already being implemented.

“Staff is meeting privately with this guy, and he is already advising them and they are planning on using him going forward to advise and train staff. Train staff on what? We were told nothing would change,” Ms. Schultz told The Times.

School board staff told parents that a report on suggested “best practices” and policy changes would be assembled and made available to them in September, but so far no report has been issued.

When Ms. Schultz and other concerned parents asked about the status of the report, school administrators said that a written report could not yet be issued because they were awaiting the results of ongoing lawsuits on school transgender policies across the country. School administration staff said the board would continue to work with the consultant in the meantime.

The emails disclosed by the FOIA reveal that FCPS hired Jeffrey Poirier, a researcher on LGBT youth at the American Institutes for Research, to serve as the gender policy consultant for FCPS.

“He is one of a few experts in the country in the field of school policies and regulations regarding transgender students and teachers,” an FCPS staff member wrote in an email.

Mr. Poirier has authored several books and studies on school policies for LGBT youth and was a member of the Technical Assistance Partnership for Child and Family Mental Health, for which he led the LGBTQ, Intersex and Two-Spirit (LGBTQI2-S) Learning Community. He has also managed projects for several school districts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Excerpts from Mr. Poirier’s books shed some light on the kinds of changes he is likely to suggest.

In his book, “Improving emotional and behavioral outcomes for LGBT youth: A guide for professionals,” Mr. Poirier suggests creating an atmosphere to address “heterosexism and transphobia,” including strategies to allow transgender students to room with peers that match their gender identity on overnight field trips.

He also recommends that all school staff members, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc., should receive compulsory professional development on LGBT topics.

He adds, “… It is irrelevant whether a person’s objection to a student’s identity or expression is based on sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Mychele Birckner, a former FCPS school board member, told The Times that the school board likely kept Mr. Poirier’s identity a secret to keep parents in the dark about his bias toward the LGBT community.

“His position and his report are definitely skewed to his viewpoint,” she said.

Mr. Poirier directed requests for comment from The Times to FCPS. A representative for FCPS did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

Concerned about the delay in assembling the policy report and rising consultation fees, Ms. Schultz asked school board staff for a copy of Mr. Poirier’s contract. She was told there was no written contract and that Mr. Poirier had been hired on a verbal agreement.

“I was utterly stunned. We’re at the point on something major where there is obviously a predictable foreseeable interest by the greater public, and we don’t have a written contract or any documentation. there’s nothing?” Ms. Schultz said.

Ms. Schultz, Ms. Brickner and other concerned parents who inquired about the contract were told that when a consultant’s fees are less than $5,000, there is no need for a written contract. Mr. Poirier had lowered his standard fee to only charge $4,800, according to the emails.

“Money is changing hands on a verbal agreement on behalf of the taxpayers, and there literally is nothing written to describe what is happening. I can’t even inform our electorate on what is going on,” Ms. Schultz said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Poirier has already been advising FCPS staff and school policy changes are already being implemented, despite parents being told in May that school operations would not change.

“This is a lie, we’ve already got little boys using little girl’s bathrooms. These things are already being implemented,” Ms. Lafferty said.

Earlier this week, parents learned that one FCPS middle school is already allowing a biologically male, transgender student to use the female bathroom. Parents only found out about the bathroom policy change at the middle school when a female student felt so uncomfortable that she told her parents about the issue.

“We know of no other situation like that in the past, so our assumption is that they’ve already changed regulations and they just didn’t want to tell parents,” Ms. Brickner said.

Parents say they do not object to policies that prevent discrimination against sexual minority students, but say their main concern is for their children’s safety.

“None of us wants any child or staff member to be discriminated against. You teach your children that that’s not nice, and you don’t do that. No parent wants that. This situation with the boy using the girls bathroom came to light because one girl was uncomfortable and talked to her mother about it.

Children will feel uncomfortable over and over again if in fact that is the new policy,” Ms. Brickner said.

FCPS is the largest school district in Virginia and the 10th largest in the country. Any changes to FCPS’ gender identity policy could, and likely will, roll over to other Virginia school district and could one day become the norm across the U.S.

The revelations about FCPS’ hidden policy updates comes just before the school board is up for re-election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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