HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County School Board is one step closer to adopting new policies regarding the use of facilities for transgender and nonbinary students.
The proposed policy was presented during Tuesday’s School Board meeting, following months of debate, after the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools. The guidance from VDOE was released after the General Assembly passed a law in 2020 regarding the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students in academic settings, requiring school divisions throughout the Commonwealth to have instituted changes to their policies by the start of the 2021-22 school year.
According to the proposed policy, on which Hanover County School Board members will officially vote during a special meeting at the end of August, students will be assigned automatically to the facilities that correspond to their biological sex, as reflected on their birth certificate, as opposed to their gender identity. Single-user facilities in common areas of the school may also be used by any student.
However, upon request, transgender students may also be granted access to the restrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities that align with their gender identity, following a process of documentation and review, if the School Board votes to approve the policy.
“I’m speaking today in opposition [to] the proposed policies around the use of public restrooms and locker rooms in school by transgender students,” one parent said during the Tuesday meeting. “I want to see you change this policy to protect transgender children, instead of criminalizing them. This policy says nothing about how these children will be protected, but instead talks about the unneeded paperwork and hoops they have to go through, just to use the bathroom.”
But other community members argued that the documentation and review process was necessary.
“Hanover County supports parental rights and safe bathrooms for all students, and this policy does both of those things,” another parent said. “I cannot stress the importance of protecting the bodily privacy and safety of each student. Please do everything you can to ensure that this policy protects [their] safety. Support the provision that requires a criminal or disciplinary history.”
According to the policy, a student, along with their parent or guardian, will need to submit a written request to the principal of the student’s school. The school’s administration will receive all relevant information, which may include:
- A statement from the student that, among other things, specifies their gender identity and how they have consistently, persistently and insistently expressed that identity.
- Signed statements from the student’s personal physician, therapist or licensed counselor verifying that the student has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and/or that the student consistently and authentically expresses a binary gender identity.
- Statements from the student’s parent or guardian.
- Student disciplinary or criminal records.
- Information related to the privacy and safety of other students.
- Any other relevant information, including documents from other interested parties.
In addition to the restroom policy the policy states the School Board must take into consideration the following:
- The physical design of the facilities to which access is requested.
- Whether students appear in a state of undress in the facilities.
- Whether there are a sufficient number of single-user stalls to accommodate students’ privacy interests given time constraints imposed by the activity for which the facilities are being used.
- Any other factors relevant to preserving student privacy and safety.
“I beg you, each of you, to take the opportunity to search yourselves and consider whether your actions and votes are reflective of caring for our community and for each and every person that [comprises] it,” one parent said. “The national discourse doesn’t have to be here in our backyard. Considering policy that further marginalizes transgender children is not in the spirit of care for our community, nor is derogatory terminology toward members of our community.”
The policy presented Tuesday referred to students with gender dysphoria, which parents opposing the language noted is different from students who are transgender.
“I would like to congratulate the School Board for their decisions today,” another community member said.
The School Board limited public comment to one hour Tuesday night but also scheduled another public comment period specific to the proposed policy on the use of facilities for transgender and nonbinary students for Aug. 16.
If approved as currently written during the special meeting on Aug. 30, the policy would offer no means of appeal for a denied request, unless “the student’s circumstances materially change,” in which case the students, along with their parent or legal guardian, may be allowed to resubmit the request.
Director of Government Relations for The Family Foundation Todd Gathje, who is also a Hanover County Public Schools parent, issued the following statement in response to the board’s official proposal of the policy:
While we are grateful the board has included parents in the process and that they seek to ensure privacy and safety for all students are protected, we question whether this proposal in going beyond what is required by the 4th Circuit ruling in the Grimm case, insufficiently protects every child. Based on the incident that occurred in Loudoun County, in which a female student was sexually abused by a male student wearing a skirt in the female bathroom, the Hanover County School Board must take any steps necessary in order to protect the safety of all students.
8News reached out to individual school divisions in Central Virginia to see if claims of assault are supported by data. Neither VDOE, nor the Virginia State Police (VSP), nor local school divisions could provide the data, and a spokesperson for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) even stated that such arguments are offensive.
The Hanover NAACP also issued a recent comment on the Hanover School Board’s handling of policies involving transgender and nonbinary students:
We stand with Hanover’s transgender students and their families as this School Board once again makes uninformed partisan decisions that we believe are discriminatory and harmful to transgender students. The Board refuses to acknowledge the statistical data that proves that transgender students are much more likely to be the victims of bullying, harassment and violence than are cisgender students. The School Board’s upcoming policy presentation on transgender bathroom use is extremely problematic for many reasons. To have the final decision of students’ use of a bathroom lie with this Board, whose recent actions, internal and public communications indicate deep bias and ignorance toward transgender children, is particularly egregious. Many of the members of this School Board have refused to seek guidance or education regarding LGBTQ issues, pronounced moral judgments and have engaged with known anti-LGBTQ groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom and The Family Foundation.