Orange County School Board members delayed voting on a proposal Monday that would have required schools to disclose to parents their students’ “self-identification,” a policy LGBTQ advocates worried could be harmful for students.
The self-identification provision was part of a resolution that also would have required that parents be notified whenever instructional materials include sexually explicit content.
The resolution was proposed by board member Chelsea Quintern in compliance with a new state law requiring school systems to notify parents of these materials and offer alternative, non-explicit materials if requested. The law does not require schools to inform parents about students’ sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under the law, the Virginia Department of Education is supposed to publish guidelines for the handling of sexually explicit material — including a recommended process for notifying parents — by the end of July. Virginia school districts must adopt versions of the guidelines by Jan. 1.
The Orange County board voted to delay a decision on the resolution until the model guidelines are released by the state Education Department.
The proposals were met with pushback from a majority of people in the packed audience at Monday’s board meeting. One of the attendees held up a sign that read “It’s OK to say gay!” — an allusion to a bill signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) that regulates lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity. Some critics of the Orange County resolutions said the proposals were attempts to copy the Florida bill.
Quintern defended her support for the resolutions Monday. Prohibiting teaching of critical race theory — a decades-old academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism — would prevent further division of students by race or ethnicity, she said, adding that the policies she proposed would better protect LGBTQ students.
“This resolution would allow schools, parents and students to bridge the resources needed to assist the children in an equitable manner,” Quintern said. “Under this resolution, these students could be better protected against discrimination, as the families would be more engaged with the upbringing of their child.”
Quintern was heckled multiple times during her comments ahead of the board’s vote. At one point, school board Chair Sherrie Page called for order and told audience members they would be escorted out if there were further outbursts.
Several students and parents spoke in opposition of the two resolutions during a public comment session that lasted nearly two hours. They pointed to statistics that LGBTQ youths are at higher risk of mental health challenges and of suicide and argued that the problem would worsen if Quintern’s proposed self-identification policy were approved.
“Even if you pass this resolution, we will continue to talk about sexuality,” said Juliet Daniel, a bisexual senior at Orange County High School. “We will continue to fight for the use of correct pronouns for every student.”
They also argued that the resolution that would ban teaching critical race theory was unfounded, saying the school system doesn’t have any curriculums incorporating it to begin with.
A few audience members spoke in favor of the proposals’ passage. One speaker cited Romans 12:2 from the Bible and asked the board “not to heed to the patterns of the world.” He compared teachers who conversed with students about their gender identity or sexual orientation with groomers, whether it was “grooming them to be social justice warriors or grooming them to be confused about their gender.” He told the board that teachers should be focused instead on subjects like civics, math or English.
All five members of the board voted to delay a decision on the sexually explicit content resolution. Page and Michael Jones voted against the resolution banning critical race theory.
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.