NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A state-mandated policy for all schools is causing some controversy at Thursday night’s Newport News School Board meeting. That policy is focusing on the inclusion of transgender students that needs to be adopted by the start the school year.
There was a huge turnout at the special meeting – so much so that most of the speakers had to wait in the lobby until it was their turn.
And after much discussion, the transgender policy narrowly passed in a vote of 4-3.
With the start of school days away and time quickly running out, board members voted to adopt a more inclusive transgender policy.
A new state law is requiring school leaders to put the rules in place by the first day of classes, but it didn’t come without debate.
“This is wrong. We have enough issues in our high schools and middle schools,” said Darron Pittman at Thursday’s meeting. "You have amazing policies already in place. Stick with those policies."
Many parents are concerned about allowing students to use bathrooms and changing rooms that align with the gender with which they identify. A private space for trans students will be provided.
Transgender students can request to use a private, designated area if they’re not comfortable sharing the same restrooms or locker rooms as their peers.
“Genders have always been separated when it comes down to locker rooms and bathrooms. It’s always been this way,” said Neverett Yarbough of Newport News.
Caroline Cox who supports transgender rights countered, “Trans people have been using the right bathroom for long time. There simply is no evidence that there is a problem, and trans rights are human rights."
But one of the biggest points of contention – a policy keeping staff from disclosing a child’s gender identity to a parent and using preferred pronouns like “she” or “he.”
Last week, the school board voted against the policies, saying they needed more discussion on how to implement them in each school.
School Board Vice-Chair Lisa Surles-Law said, "A lot of it is mandated, so we really don’t have a choice, but you still have to go through how you’re going to implement it."
Gavin Grimm, a transgender man and former student with Gloucester County Public Schools, spoke out at Thursday’s meeting, just hours after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced his legal victory challenging the district’s bathroom policy.
"I implore you to take care of the students that you’ve been tasked to take care of, and respect their rights and not force transgender students into a place of discrimination and segregation," said Grimm.
As for allowing transgender students to play on the sports team of the gender with which they identify, board members say that would be decided by the Virginia High School League.