Discussion about transgender students took up about an hour at Tuesday evening’s Waynesboro School Board meeting.
The board approved rules about school safety issues, including bullying and harassment, for the 2021-22 school year, which included issues concerning transgender students, including their right to use the restroom of their choice. The vote counted four members in favor of the motion and one member, Erika Smith, abstained.
“I think it’s important to note that we are proposing to adopt tonight our non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies,” Waynesboro superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Cassell said before the vote. “The policies proposed for you for consideration for tonight are not the Department of Education’s proposed model policies. The policies that you have before you are Virginia School Board Association policies.”
Two changes include allowing students to use a name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity and that facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students.
Some parents at the meeting voiced concerns that students who are not transgender would identify as someone of the opposite sex to gain access to a restroom or locker room for the opposite sex.
Lidia Williams was one such parent. “This is going to lead to the abuse of our children.” she said. Williams, who also stated her opposition to Critical Race theory, which she believed promotes one race over another, said she’s against allowing children to choose their gender identity. “Even my 9-year-old daughter thinks it’s wrong for a girl to be in a boy’s locker room.”
“I think there’s this idea that a young man can walk in the building tomorrow and say, ‘I’m a girl today. I‘m going to the girl’s bathroom,’” Cassell said. “That doesn’t work. A transgender student is a student who has been consistently asserting their gender identification. The idea that were going to have students coming in and creating some havoc or wanting to create a disruption; we’ll deal with that as we do currently if somebody’s going into a bathrooms or locker room where they quite frankly don’t belong.”
Other attendees felt the new policy adoptions were radical. Tiffany Sensabaugh said that the school system had overstepped its bounds and violated religious freedoms of citizens.
“Our teachers have so much to worry about already,” Sensabaugh said. “Between government regulations, trying to get pronouns right, trying to identify equity gaps. How will they find time to teach our children math, science and history?”
Some in attendance, including Lynn Murphy, agreed with the changes.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t know a single openly gay or trans person in the school,” said Murphy, who identified herself as a transgender woman. “It’s not because we weren’t there, it’s because we didn’t feel supported.”
Another voice of support towards the policy changes came from Sharon Van Name, who noted that her grandchild had to be hospitalized twice for suicidal ideation. Van Name said what she wanted most for her grandchild and other kids was to have a supportive environment.
“One that feels safe enough so that they’re willing to go on living,” she said. “Making sure that our kids feel safe and able to grow in their own unique ways to become their own unique people.”
In other news, Cassell announced school will start Aug. 10 with in-person classes five days a week. During the past school year a hybrid of in-person and virtual classes were used to teach students.
Although the Center for Disease Control recommends three feet of social distancing if possible, Cassell said “that’s not a recommendation that should impede or deter students being in school.”
However, classrooms will be organized differently than they have been. Instead of setting up desks in rows, Cassell said desks will instead be spaced around the room.
“It’s just good hygiene,” he said.