Hanover Schools over month behind on compliance with state law on treatment of transgender, nonbinary students

Hanover County

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Parents of students in Hanover County are speaking out, after the School Board’s agenda for its Tuesday meeting was published, including a discussion on draft policy modifications regarding the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students in the school division.

The agenda was sent out on Oct. 7 ahead of the Oct. 12 meeting. However, General Assembly passed a law in 2020 that created a new, statewide set of guidelines for school districts on how their transgender and nonbinary students are treated. That legislation required school divisions throughout the commonwealth to have instituted changes to such policies by the start of the 2021-22 school year.

A spokesperson for the school division told 8News that the School Board discussed § 22.1-23.3 of the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) model guidance regarding the treatment of transgender students during its recent planning retreat on Sept. 30.

In a July 30 memo to school divisions, the VDOE state superintendent stated that local school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance. While no state funding is tied to this legislative mandate, noncompliance could still be costly for school boards in the commonwealth that fail to comply, due to civil litigation or other associated liabilities.

As of Oct. 11, Hanover County Public Schools is more than a month behind complying with this mandate, which called for policy changes by Sept. 7.

The parent of a transgender student in Hanover schools spoke with 8News on Monday regarding this delay in policy making.

“My child’s been out for more than three years in Hanover County schools, and the response and support from administrators and teachers has been really good so far. Their hands are tied on some issues that specifically relate to policy in the county,” Kelly, who asked that only her first name be used in order to protect her child, said. “My child lives inside his body every day. He can’t avoid it, and it’s devastating.”

For example, Kelly said that current policy in Hanover County does not allow transgender students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.

“My student has been reluctant to use the restroom at all,” Kelly said. “He feels like that restroom that they do allow him to use is a punishment. He views it as something that’s shameful and something to be embarrassed about, and so he just doesn’t use the restroom at all.”

VDOE’s model policy allows the use of name and gender pronouns students identify with, and allows students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. The guidelines also say schools should let students participate in gender-specific programs or activities — such as physical education, overnight field trips and intramural sports — that correspond with their gender identities.

But other parents with children in the Hanover County Public School division told 8News that they are concerned about protecting the students in their family, as well.

“I want to make sure that my children, especially my daughters, are safe and that their privacy isn’t violated, that they can go into a changing facility and, you know what, ‘This is kind of awkward already. I don’t want to have any additional awkwardness to be imposed on me,'” Dr. Todd Gathje with The Family Foundation of Virginia said.

He suggested that one solution to transgender students in Hanover County not being permitted to use the restroom that aligns with their preferred gender identity is to have single-stall restrooms that anyone could use.

But Kelly said that students who are not transgender don’t need to be fearful of those who are.

“I understand parents who want to protect their kids,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to do here, too. The truth is that kids who aren’t transgender are not in danger of being around students who are, even in the restroom.”

However, Gathje argued that VDOE’s model policies may not suit Hanover County and do not need to be put in place there.

“We think that these policies really don’t need to be implemented,” he said. “I think Hanover County, by virtue of these limited policies, show that they already have sufficient policies in place to make sure that they protect every student, and that is key. We want to make sure that every student is protected.”

But Kelly said that every student isn’t being protected, describing the torment her child faces at the hands of other students.

“My student does face harassment in school: being teased, songs being sung in his direction,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate that the teachers and faculty and staff here are well-intended and they want to help him. But often, they find that they don’t know how.”

In addition to making schools throughout Hanover County a safe place for students to explore their gender identity, Kelly said that compliance with VDOE’s model policies would help to train and prepare teachers and staff to handle such matters.

“If they implement the model policy, I think transgender students in the county can look forward to not being outed when they don’t want to be, that they can be called by their affirming name and pronouns, that they can use the restroom in peace,” she said. “The mental health journey for transgender students is tough enough. If there isn’t a supportive home, there should be a supportive school.”

8News reached out to Hanover County’s School Board Chair several times over the course of the past week, but has not received a response. A spokesperson for the division said that the School Board will not be taking immediate action on these draft policy modifications at its Tuesday meeting.

“Rather, the proposed policy changes will be presented to the board, the board will have an opportunity for discussion, and the proposed policy modifications will most likely be placed on the next School Board meeting agenda for action, which will be held on November 9 at 7 p.m.,” he said. “This approach allows time for the public and School Board to consider the proposed policy changes.”

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