A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access is seen in bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

THE BATTLE over bathroom access for transgender people made its way onto the GOP convention stage last week in Cleveland — and into the Republican Party platform. But the fight is also taking place closer to home, in Fairfax County: The district’s school board took a step backward last Tuesday by refusing to review regulations that would have helped enforce its policy protecting transgender students and staff.

Fairfax County has been ahead of the curve when it comes to equal treatment of transgender residents: By the time President Obama ordered schools in May to provide all students access to facilities that match their gender identities, Fairfax’s similar nondiscrimination policy had been in place for more than a year. Last month, Fairfax planned to put the policy into practice by adding a clause to its handbook that clarified enforcement protocol for teachers and administrators. The school board was set to hold a working session on the subject last Thursday. Instead, the board tabled the topic with no set timeline for picking it back up.

The Fairfax County School Board blamed the move on a changing legal landscape. Since the Obama administration issued its directive in May, 21 states have filed lawsuits protesting the president’s policy. In Gloucester County, Va., the school board has appealed to the Supreme Court to halt an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit allowing a transgender student to use a boys’ high school bathroom. Until last week, none of that seemed to cow Fairfax. But now the school board says it is worried about moving too quickly in an uncertain environment. Some members are also concerned about protecting the privacy of non-transgender students, even though the regulations are the product of a year-long review of best practices.

Arguments against rules such as Fairfax’s rely on trumped-up fears about student safety. In reality, it is transgender students who are made to feel unsafe when their peers harass and bully them for trying to go to the bathroom. It appears their advocates have been similarly bullied into abandoning a smart change to the status quo: Fairfax’s regulations would have made it easier for transgender students to access the accommodations they are entitled to, and for schools to serve them without confusion. The county’s nondiscrimination policy remains in effect, but last week’s decision sends a discouraging message to transgender students in the district.

In June, the mother of a Fairfax County transgender girl praised the district for focusing on “safety for all and not comfort for some.” By moving away from that standard, Fairfax is failing to live up to its own example.