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Va. school board proposes telling parents how students self-identify

Some fear that teachers will be required to ‘out’ LGBTQ students to their parents

Orange County School Board members are set to discuss resolutions regarding sexually explicit content at a May 9 board meeting. (iStock)

A Virginia school board is considering a proposal that would require schools to notify parents of students’ “self-identification” — spurring worries that teachers will be forced to reveal the gender identity or sexuality of LGBTQ students without their consent.

The resolution, slated for discussion by Orange County Public Schools at a board meeting Monday, was proposed by board member Chelsea Quintern in compliance with a state law signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in April that says Virginia school districts must notify parents whenever instructional materials include sexually explicit content and must provide alternative, non-explicit materials if requested.

Citing the law, the Orange County resolution says that “students shall not be subjected … to curriculum, materials, and discussions relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other sexually explicit subject without explicit consent from their parent(s).”

A second provision adds that “the Orange County Public School Board requires schools to notify parents of healthcare services and involvement in critical decisions affecting students’ physical, mental and emotional well-being; including, but not limited to self-identification.”

New Va. law requires schools alert parents of ‘sexually explicit material’

The latter statement is troubling to some teachers and students in Orange County and to LGBTQ advocates statewide. One teacher in the county, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retaliation, called the resolution “a clear instruction to ‘out’ students to their parents.” He said many teachers and students in the district of about 5,000 are distraught.

FCPS Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Northern Virginia, wrote in a statement Friday: “The Orange County School Board is saying, loudly and clearly to queer people: ‘we count you as worth nothing, and we want you to pretend you don’t exist.’ ”

All five members of the Orange County School Board did not return requests for comment Friday evening.

At the most recent board meeting held last month, Quintern introduced the resolution on sexually explicit content, according to video of the meeting posted to Facebook by an attendee. Quintern also proposed a second resolution banning critical race theory from the school system’s “training program, curriculum [and] materials.”

She argued for her resolution on sexually explicit materials at the April 25 meeting by pointing to the state law on sexually explicit content. “I believe that this is going to encompass all of the requirements in the bill,” Quintern said, according to the video.

But the board appears to be going several steps beyond the Virginia law.

That law does not require schools to inform parents about students’ sexual orientation or gender identity; it does not directly discuss the issue. Under the law, the Virginia Department of Education is supposed to publish model guidelines for the handling of sexually explicit material — including a recommended process for notifying parents — by the end of July. All of Virginia’s 133 school districts must adopt versions of the guidelines by Jan. 1.

State Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, did not respond directly Friday to a question asking whether she supports the Orange County School Board’s resolution.

She wrote in a statement that her bill “is specific to instructional material alone. While school boards may have the prerogative to develop and adopt policies such as this, it is not something [the law] requires.”

Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, also did not respond directly Friday to a question asking whether the governor supports the Orange County resolution or resolutions like it.

She wrote in a statement that Youngkin signed the law on sexually explicit content “to empower parents, reaffirm parental rights, and provide parents a notification if their children were exposed to sexually explicit materials.”

It is unclear whether the Orange County board is going to vote on the two resolutions Monday. At the April 25 meeting, Quintern said she was eager to bring the measures to a vote, according to the Facebook video. But other members said they would like to wait.

Member Jim Hopkins said he wants to see the guidelines that the state Education Department is supposed to release at the end of July before taking action.

“I would just rather wait to see what they are going to recommend as policy before we do this,” he said, per the video. “But I do support what she’s trying to do.”

Hopkins also said he would like to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed resolutions before taking action.

Residents, families and teachers now know “where our board is looking to go,” Hopkins said, according to the video. “At least two of us have said publicly we are willing to go there, so if they have some objections, they have a chance to let us know about that.”

Board members Michael Jones and Sherrie Page said they, too, would like to hear from members of the public. No board member voiced opposition to either resolution, according to the video, and the group voted unanimously to include the resolutions for discussion at their next meeting, on Monday.

Meanwhile, the anonymous Orange County teacher said, emotions are running high among educators in the county, which is in Virginia’s central Piedmont region and is home to Montpelier, the 2,700-acre estate of President James Madison.

Particularly concerning, the teacher said, is that Quintern’s resolutions are broad and vaguely worded. He said educators are unsure what they will be allowed to talk about in classrooms should the resolutions pass. He added that some teachers are starting to make lists of what they expect will become forbidden topics.

As for the resolution that requires reporting students’ self-identification to parents, the teacher said it has left “students really enraged” and teachers feeling “rage and a deep sadness.” He said teachers in the district estimate that at least 80 percent of students who are members of the Gay-Straight Alliance club are “not out to their parents.”

“Counselors are looking up their ethical guidelines” in response to that resolution, he said. “Teachers are talking about civil disobedience.”

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