PORTSMOUTH, Va. – A new Virginia law ensures all students are treated equally. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) developed Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools to comply with the legislation.
Rising high school senior Janare Davis is applauding his school board for passing a policy that would protect all students, no matter with what gender they identify.
“As a student representative, I believe that us putting a policy more for all students, not just on one kind of student, can open up more doors for students to get more goals and opportunities,” said Davis, who attends I.C. Norcom High School. “If they know that they're equal in school, then they will continue to come to school participate in this school.”
In a 5-1 vote Thursday night, the Portsmouth City School Board adopted the state-mandated policy for the treatment of transgender students in public schools.
Board member Claude Parent voted against the policy.
“I'm not opposed to providing accommodations for transgender students,” Parent said. “These transgender model policies by the Virginia Department of Education do not reflect my religious beliefs based on scripture and gospel. Therefore, I will be voting, as a board member, no.”
School Board Vice-Chair LaKeesha Atkinson, who is openly gay, said the legislation ensures a positive, safe and inclusive learning environment for students regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“At the end of the day, children are human beings,” she said. “As a school system, as a school board member, we want all children to be treated equally and fairly.”
The model policy states, school activities and practices should be gender neutral.
Additionally, transgender students will be allowed to use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
Portsmouth schools will help to provide a private space for trans students if other students don’t feel comfortable sharing a bathroom.
“Those protections weren't available when I was in school, so it just shows that we're progressing forward, so this is this is major,” Atkinson said.
The state mandate follows last year’s landmark supreme court ruling protecting gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace.
In a new policy directive, the department said discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.
“When children see that they're not accepted or treated a certain type of way, it leads to suicide; it leads to bullying,” said Atkinson. “We had to - as adults, as a board member - protect all children regardless, so if anyone is struggling with that decision, just think about it: What if it was your child?”
Janare Davis believes his classmates have the right to learn free from discrimination, adding his school makes sure to treat everyone with respect and dignity.
“They make us feel like we’re all equal,” he said. “Our school board and school system makes sure that students have what they need to be successful in life, even LGBT or straight. They give us to be prepared for a life ahead of us outside of high school and outside of any school in our school division.”
Atkinson said the next steps would be to incorporate regular education about transgender students into staff professional development and training and create campaigns about the new policy similar to anti-bullying campaigns.
Local school boards are required to adopt policies consistent with the model policy by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.