The Fairfax County School Board voted to approve expanding protections to transgender students and staff Thursday night at a rambunctious meeting that included chants, jeers and vocal opposition from hundreds of parents.
The School Board voted 10 to 1 with one abstention to add “gender identity” to its non-discrimination policy, two months after Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) issued an opinion granting local school boards the authority to expand protections to transgender people.
The School Board voted in November to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy after the Supreme Court let stand rulings that allow gay marriages in Virginia and other states.
“The decision by the Fairfax County School Board to add ‘gender identity’ to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect,” board Chair Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee) said.
School Board members acknowledged that in the days before Thursday’s vote they had received thousands e-mails from parents and others in the community.
The auditorium at Luther Jackson Middle School was filled to capacity, with about 500 people in attendance. At times, the meeting was interrupted by vocal opposition from hundreds in the audience who chanted and booed.
Kaufax at one point hammered her gavel and threatened to clear the auditorium if audience members continued to interject. At least five Fairfax County police and school security officers were standing in the room during the meeting. Some in attendance stood to turn their backs on board members as they spoke in favor of the policy change.
School Board member Elizabeth Schultz, who voted against the measure, said the vote was about the privacy of the vast majority of students and staff in the school system.
“It is about the right of 99.7 percent of all students, all teachers and all employees to retain their right to privacy, safety and dignity,” said Schultz (Springfield). “Let’s change the policy to two words: ‘Don’t discriminate.’ ”
School Board member Patty Reed (Providence) noted that the vote to add gender identity to the policy seemed rushed.
Reed, who abstained from the vote, said that it took “10 years of study to institute later high school start times.”
Board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), who sponsored the motion to add protections for transgender students, described the effort as “the civil rights issue of our day.”
McElveen said that the updated policy would not immediately change bathroom or locker room rules and that transgender students and staff seeking accommodations would be dealt with on a case by case basis. Kaufax said in a statement that the school system planned to hire a consultant to address “developing appropriate regulations that protect the rights of all students and comply with state and federal law.”
McElveen said that “fear and distrust” had been sown into the community before Thursday’s vote, which he said was about showing “that we value all employees and students for who they are.”