HISTORIC TRIANGLE — Since the days of the Stonewall riots and the AIDS epidemic, members of the LGBTQ+ community have seen public attitudes change drastically over the last several decades.
Not long ago, Virginia was in the throws of a federal court case over whether to allow students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity rather than the one they were assigned at birth.
But what resources do today’s LGBTQ+ students have in public school systems? How are teachers and staff trained to respond to students who may be questioning their gender and or sexual identity? Where are public schools at now in terms of facilitating a nurturing and positive environment for LGBTQ+ students?
In Compliance with Virginia Code §22.1-23.3
For the 2021-2022 school year, school systems will need to adopt policies that are consistent with Virginia Code §22.1-23.3. This calls for the Commonwealth’s Department of Education to develop model policies for school board compliance regarding the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools. This will include information, guidance, procedures and expected standards.
The new guidance includes school system compliance with nondiscrimination laws, maintaining a safe and supporting learning environment that is free of discrimination and harassment, prevention and response to bullying, maintenance of student records, identification of students, protection of student privacy and confidentiality of sensitive information, how to proceed with enforcement of sex-based dress codes, and student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and the use of school facilities.
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools has taken a few steps in order to make the school environment one that is more inclusive for students that identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
School counselors are available to provide assistance for the social and emotional needs of both individual students and their families.
Additionally, students are permitted to use the restroom of their gender identity, not assignment. School administrators are also open to talk with individuals in order to examine restroom options on a case-by-case basis to include gender neutral bathrooms such as the one in the school’s clinic.
Several schools in the system have clubs for LGBTQ+ students and allies. For example, Jamestown High School has the Prism Club.
This summer and into the fall, school system employees will receive training in order to meet state guidelines that go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year.
However, there is not a clear course when it comes to a school system-mandated requirement for teachers and staff to use the pronouns of a student’s gender identity and name rather than that assigned at birth.
“One thing we know for sure is that education and training is key in supporting both students and staff,” said Eileen Cox, spokesperson for WJCC Public Schools.
York County School Division
“The York County School Division ensures resources are available to all students to provide a safe, and welcoming environment while promoting positive relationships between and among staff, students and families,” Katherine Goff, spokesperson for the York County School Division (YCSD) wrote in an email on June 16.
According to Goff, the division’s school counselors work with all students, especially those who may be subjected to harassment, bullying, or struggling with social-emotional issues.
At the secondary level, there is a stipend position called the Student Connection Coach. “This position is used to help with student interventions related to school engagement, attendance, and social-emotional learning,” Goff wrote.
In regards to student engagement, several of the secondary schools have clubs that support LGBTQ+ students.
At the faculty and staff level, cultural learning and awareness has been a foundational component of the division’s professional development efforts at both the division and school level. According to Goff, the division will be working this summer to review the guidance documents from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), which provides resources and modules related to diversity and equity to determine the appropriate materials and content for staff.
“As part of the current 5-year YCSD Strategic Plan, the division is committed to providing research-based professional development for staff in order to support the needs of our diverse student and family population,” Goff wrote.
YCSD also follows all federal and state regulations and guidance concerning the use of pronouns, name identities and restrooms, meaning students can use the restroom of their preferred gender and have the right to be addressed by their preferred pronouns.