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Fairfax County School Board commits to supporting transgender students, as community speaks out

Transgender pride flag (via Alexander Grey/Unsplash)

The Fairfax County School Board reaffirmed its support for transgender students last week as community members spoke out against policies proposed by the state that would limit their rights.

At a meeting on Thursday (Oct. 6), members issued a statement reiterating Fairfax County Public School’s commitment to policies that “will continue supporting our transgender and gender-expansive students, staff, and families”:

The Fairfax County School Board understands that our LGBTQIA+ students, staff, and families are worried about the impact of Governor Youngkin’s proposed model policies for transgender and gender-expansive students. Nearly one in five transgender and non-binary youth attempted suicide in the last year. LGBTQIA+ youth who found their school to be affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide. It is necessary to ensure our school community is a place where all students can live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, harassment, or violence.

The statement followed walkouts in late September by thousands of students who opposed the draft policies from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education. Prior to the school board meeting, the LGBTQ staff advocacy group FCPS Pride led a protest in front of Luther Jackson Middle School.

Released on Sept. 16 and open for public comment through Oct. 26, the state’s draft policies direct schools to treat transgender and gender-expansive students according to their sex assigned at birth unless they present legal documentation of a change to their name or sex.

Even if a student changes their official school records, the policies say they must still use facilities based on their sex assigned at birth and prohibit schools from disciplining staff or students who misgender or deadname a student, citing free speech protections.

In its statement, the school board says FCPS will continue to adhere to its existing policy and regulation, which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and promise acceptance of “a student or parent’s assertion of a student’s gender-expansive or transgender status.”

The policies allow students to use “a locker room or restroom consistent with the student’s gender identity,” which run opposed to the state’s new proposed policies.

When asked for a response to the school board’s statement, Youngkin’s office told FFXnow that the guidelines are not for the local school system to decide.

“Children belong to families not bureaucrats and school board members,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter wrote in an email. “Virginians spoke clearly last year and they continue to say that parents matter. Parents deserve to be involved in all critical discussions about their children. School boards should bring them into the conversation, not cut them out of it.”

Noting that most school districts in Virginia never adopted model policies under former governor Ralph Northam, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told FFXnow last month that he believes the county would be on “safe legal ground” if FCPS sticks with its own policies.

The Pride Liberation Group, which organized last month’s student walk-outs, told FFXnow that they hope other Virginia school districts follow Fairfax County’s example.

“We are heartened to see the Fairfax County School Board affirm its commitment to protect transgender and Queer students,” Nat Sanghvi, a lead organizer with the Pride Liberation Project, said. “Thousands of students in Fairfax County and Virginia as a whole walked out to call for our education leaders to safeguard our rights, and we hope other school districts follow Fairfax County’s lead. We also hope our leaders recognize that this is only the first step in ensuring the LGBTQIA+ students attend safe and welcoming schools, and continue to work to pass policies that allow all to thrive.”

Last week was the first school board meeting since Youngkin’s draft policies were released. The board also voted unanimously on a resolution to declare October “LGBTQIA+ History Month” in county schools.

Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch, who lost a bid this weekend for the House of Delegates, called the new state-proposed policies “shameful and divisive.”

“I’m proud of the policy and regulations we have implemented in Fairfax County Public Schools to protect and affirm our LGBTQIA students, particularly those who are transgender and gender expansive,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have not always moved fast enough. Generations of students and staff walked the halls of our buildings before they were treated with respect by our school division. Thankfully, we have made extraordinary progress, especially in recent years.”

He also commended students for protesting and deciding to “stand up for change.”

Other school board members, including Mason District’s Ricardy Anderson and Springfield’s Laura Jane Cohen, shared similar sentiments.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, many community members also shared concerns and fear about the policies. One FCPS student noted they were “terrified” by the governor’s proposals, and another called them “blatantly discriminatory.”

Several FCPS teachers also spoke, with one saying that the new policies would undermine a school system’s top goal of protecting students.

A number of speakers asked the school board to go beyond words and “take concrete actions” against Youngkin’s proposed policies.

Photo via Alexander Grey/Unsplash

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