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VBCPS Superintendent speaks to News 3 on transgender policies ahead of expected vote

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Posted at 11:58 AM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 12:01:58-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Thursday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) students will head back to school for the new year.

Around Virginia, Commonwealth officials say districts are supposed to have policies for transgender students adopted no later than the start of the new year.

Next Tuesday, VBCPS school board members are expected to vote on these policies that have been a highly debated topic throughout Hampton Roads.

“I think the underlying issue is the dignity and inclusion of all students in our school division,” VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said.

Dr. Spence talked with News 3 two weeks after the meeting where folks in the community discussed transgender policies.

“Access to bathrooms, and safety in them, is not a privilege, it's a right,” Virginia Beach parent Tonya Rivers said at the August 24 meeting. “It’s a right for everyone, not just for those that fit nicely in the boy or girl boxes.”

“What would you say to a parent whose child gets a kidney infection, or worse, by refusing to use the restroom at school out of fear for someone of the opposite sex may be there?” resident Thomas Conant said at the August 24 meeting.

Dr. Spence reflected on the public discussion at the August 24 meeting.

“I think, across the state, this is a lively conversation,” Spence said. “I think there are people passionate about these issues for students across the spectrum.”

After discussion, school board members moved to take action on the policies at the next meeting on September 14, after the start of the new school year.

“I think the vote to have it on the next agenda was based on a bylaw requirement - that any policy changes go to the public meeting for information first and the subsequent meeting for actions,” Spence said.

In a memo sent in July to division superintendents around the Commonwealth, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane said these policies must be adopted, "no later than the 2021-2022 school year.” Dr. Lane added that "local school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance."

“I think, in general, we’re already complying with the guidance that’s been developed, so I think we’ll probably be OK there,” Dr. Spence told News 3. “We’re talking about less than a week after the start of school that our board will be taking this up again. I think we can probably show good faith that they’re taking this up based on the fact that it was up for a vote and then just had to be moved, procedurally.”

Dr. Spence believes the school board is trying to do the right thing and hopes their board will choose to follow the law at next Tuesday’s meeting.

“The key issue for us to all to remember is that this is a state law, and a requirement in state law that the DOE [Virginia Department of Education] developed model policies for the protection of transgender students and that school boards adopt those policies either in compliance with or more stringent than,” Spence said. “My obligation and my belief is that, as a superintendent, all of our students need to be provided with the same equal protections under the law. We need to make sure that they feel welcomed and included in our buildings - every single student.”