A Fairfax County school board member has proposed expanding the district’s nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity for the first time.
Ryan McElveen (At Large) submitted a proposal last week to amend the school system’s anti-discrimination policy following an opinion issued earlier this month by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D). Herring’s position reverses a 2002 opinion and now grants local school boards the authority to expand protections to employees and students to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The school board will discuss McElveen’s proposal at a meeting Thursday. In November the school board voted to include sexual orientation in the district’s nondiscrimination protection after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dissolved a Virginia ban on same-sex marriage.
McElveen said that the proposal will close a gap in the school system’s protections for students and staff.
“It’s critical for Fairfax County, as the largest school division in the state, to make the statement that we unequivocally protect, value and embrace all of our students and employees for who they are,” said McElveen, a 2004 graduate of Fairfax’s George C. Marshall High School. “Statistics show that half of all transgender teens will attempt suicide by the time they turn 20, and it’s time that we bring this issue to light.”
Herring’s opinion came at the request of Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and was prompted by the Fairfax school board's movement to protect sexual orientation.
“Every Virginian has the right to live, learn, and work without fear of discrimination,” Herring (D) said in a written statement. “That’s a Virginia value, and one that we must guard even more carefully when it comes to our children.”
The 2002 opinion, written by then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R), also prompted by the Fairfax school board, stated that the administration did not have the authority under the Dillon rule to amend its policies covering sexual orientation. The Dillon rule limits local governments from establishing policies where a state statute does not already exist.
Herring’s opinion revised the earlier stance, citing the state’s constitution, which gives local school boards the authority to provide “safety and welfare” to children.
“School boards shall ‘provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights,’” Herring wrote. “The law and the precedents are clear.”
The current Fairfax Schools policy reads: “No student, employee, or applicant for employment in the Fairfax County Public Schools shall, on the basis of age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, marital status, or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity, as required by law.”