Tuesday, February 20, 2024

WJCC Approves Changes to Reflect Youngkin’s Model Policy for Transgender Students

(WJCC Schools)

WILLIAMSBURG — Changes were approved to align school policy with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students during the Tuesday, Nov. 28 Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) School Board meeting.

WJCC School Board members adopted changes regarding how a student can be addressed, school counseling programs and overnight travel accommodations, putting the division in compliance with Youngkin’s updated model policies on “ensuring privacy, dignity, and respect for all students and parents in Virginia public schools.”

“All children in Virginia deserve to have a parent engaged in their life and to be treated with dignity and respect. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) updated model policies reaffirm my administration’s continued commitment to ensure that every parent is involved in conversations regarding their child’s education, upbringing, and care. Public comment, input, and concerns were carefully evaluated and assessed to formulate the updated model policies. The Department of Education has delivered policies that empower parents, prohibit discrimination, create a safe and vibrant learning environment by addressing bullying incidents immediately, and protect the privacy and dignity of all students through bathroom policies, athletic procedures, and student identification measures,” said Youngkin in a statement released July 13.

At Youngkin’s request, Attorney General Jason Miyares released an official advisory opinion in August concluding the VDOE’s model policies comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws and reiterated the Youngkin administration’s position that school boards must adopt their own policies to reflect them.

The Virginia Mercury reported in August that those model policies, written in 2022, add steps students and parents must take when seeking changes to a student’s identity and prohibit the use of school facilities or participation in sports that don’t align with the sex on a student’s official school record. Furthermore, students and parents must submit legal documentation — such as a new birth certificate or passport — to change the official record and require written parental permission for a student to use a different name or pronouns at school.

During the Nov. 28 meeting’s public comment session, WJCC school employee and parent Jessica Anderson addressed the board, stating the updated model policy will directly impact trans and non-binary students.

“We are altering an entire public school policy to target a population that makes up less than 1% of all people in the United States.” Anderson continued, “As I stated at a previous school board meeting, upwards of 40% of our homeless youth identify as the LGBTQ+ community. And parents who have been tasked to protect those children chose instead to abandon them. These types of policies are protecting those types of parents, stripping our students of their rights and in many instances, their safety.”

Anderson concluded by saying, “I truly hope you listen to the many voices tonight advocating against incorporating these policy changes and recognize the harm it’s going to create for some of our most vulnerable students.”

Many other parents also spoke out against the policy change. One asking the board, “do you know exactly what your proposed language is supposed to mean? And, could you clearly explain that to teachers, administrators and chaperones so they would know what to do and what not to do?”

Lesley Henderson, a WJCC school psychologist, felt a policy change would be a detriment to the relationships between school counselors, students and parents.

“We stand to rupture our relationship with all students and can no longer effectively perform our duties as counseling professionals,” she said.

Before the board voted on Approval of Revisions to Policy JO, Student Scholastic Records, Board Chair Greg Dowell pointed out that the school division requires student records with identifying information that must be filled out when a student applies for an educational experience.

“The process is not new or novel,” Dowell said, “There has always been an unstated obligation to address a student by that name. We have heard conjecture like what about preferred names or nicknames, but then we have to consider there is a moment in time where a particular student may want to be called by a different name and I think this [policy] offers a teacher, faculty or staff member guidance on what to do, because this is a challenging time for some. It provides clarity for a lot of teachers and staff members that genuinely want to do right by all parties.”
The vote for revisions to policy JO passed with a vote of 4-3 after debate and comment from the board.
Just before the vote, board member Julie Hummel stated, “I would just like to acknowledge all of the parents that came out tonight to speak and to acknowledge their bravery in speaking to us. What I think what we are trying to do here is not be very targeting to any group of individuals in our policy. We specifically did not want to make this targeted for any group, it was to be a much more general policy clarifying the student record.”
The other two policy changes, Approval of Revisions to Policy IICA, Field Trips and Excursions and the Approval of Revisions to Policy IJ, School Counseling Programs, passed unanimously.

The WJCC school board meeting can be viewed here.

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