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School Board Majority Wants Amendment to Protected LGBT People

| September 8, 2016 | 0 Comments | Education
Citizen speaks before the Prince William County School Board on the amendment to the nondiscrimination and equity policy.

A citizen speaks before the Prince William County School Board on the amendment to the nondiscrimination and equity policy.

Residents are split as to whether Prince William County Schools’ should add protection for gay and transgender individuals to its nondiscrimination policy; however, more school board members seem to be in favor of the amendment than not.

Prince William County School Board discussed the proposed policy change at its Sept 7 meeting.

Other large school districts around Virginia such as Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Virginia Beach have amended their nondiscrimination policies to include homosexual and transgender students and employees, but some attracted social and legal controversies in the process.

Chairman Ryan Sawyers, Diane Raulston (Neabsco) and Loree Williams (Woodbridge) were strongly on board to amend the policy. Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) also leaned in that direction.

Willie Deutsch (Coles), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Justin Wilk (Potomac) wanted to review more information first and perhaps hold off until the courts ruled on the issue, saying changing the policy could have unintended consequences.

“What are the implications? Would the policy result in the need for more policies? If so, what are they?” asked Satterwhite, noting it could involve changing the physical structure of schools, or alienating families with deeply held beliefs.

“Wait for the federal courts, maybe the Supreme Court,” said Satterwhite. “We are taking constituents on a legal and very emotional rollercoaster. Students cannot be used as legal pawns,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts explained that principals have been making decisions on how to best accommodate transgender students.

Chairman Sawyers first proposed the policy change at the school board’s final meeting in June. It was on the agenda for discussion at their first meeting back.

School board members said time on the agenda should have been cleared prior to the meeting to allow for all citizens who wanted to speak to do so.

Many also felt a discussion should only have followed an informational presentation.

“It was like ‘bam’ we’re doing this,” Jessie said.

Of those who spoke, some fiercely advocated for the protection of the LGBT community, saying it was the same as another minority group such as African Americans or the disabled. One man pointed out that the major employers in Prince William County offered protection to their LGBT employees.

Others warned the policy change would only create problems for the school district. Chief among those problems: deciding who would be given access to gender-specific bathrooms, locker rooms as well as hotel rooms and beds on overnight trips.

Some feared it would provide unwanted attention for transgender students and make cisgendered students feel uncomfortable, even unsafe at school.

Williams argued the locker room issue is really a non-issue, saying most people can effectively change their clothes without exposing themselves.

Sawyers’ said he was moved to propose the amendment after talking to his 8-year-old daughter, the day before the Orlando massacre. She asked him what the “L” in LGBT stood for.

To his pride and amazement, she knew what the other letters stood for, but she wasn’t confused or shocked; she simply asked for more Coco Pebbles.

“Kids aren’t naturally biased,” Sawyers said. “They understand that people are naturally different, including them.”

A transgender woman and local journalist passionately spoke, saying being transgender is not something that ever goes away. A student explained how he was bullied for his sexual orientation. One man accused conservatives of discriminating against those who make them uncomfortable.

Satterwhite requested that before the board seriously considers the amendment, PWCS should create a task force to includes parents, teachers, and an attorney to review the issues and consequences surrounding changing the policy.

Wilk added he would be uncomfortable voting on the amendment in just two weeks time. However, if the board waits to vote on the amendment, having a person in the Brentsville seat could result in a failure to pass the amendment.

Both sides were also concerned with legal issues. While Virginia schools have been passing similar policies, Fairfax County Public Schools put the implementation of their amendment on hold.

Lisa Schuman passed out information from the Alliance Defending Freedom and answered a concern that no school has ever lost Title IX funding for not enacting the new federal mandates for including transgender in the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

*Another woman said they fought the issue in Fairfax and they will fight it in Prince William too. She said the nondiscrimination policy will not likely achieve the goal of preventing bullying.

“There is going to be bullying no matter what,” she said. “It is always terrible.”

However, Jessie said they have to be willing to do go through with it, even if it is messy.

“Just because it’s hard – because I think this is going to be difficult – just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done,” Jessie said.

Raulston sounded completely comfortable with the policy amendment.

“When you come from the Bay Area of California, you’ve watched this show before. Eventually, everyone comes together. We’ll all come together. I don’t have a problem with people saying the things that they want. I have to give you credit. It’s not an easy topic. The hearts and minds of all of us are with you no matter what.”

 

*Correction: It was not Lisa Schuman who said they would fight the amendment as was previously reported. 

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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