Herring: School Board Should Affirm Commitment to Inclusion

By Attorney General Mark R. Herring

Every Virginian has the right to live, learn, and work without fear of discrimination, harassment, bullying or mistreatment. No one should suffer because of who they are, where they come from, how they worship, or whom they love, and no child should fear for his or her safety or dread getting out of bed because of bullying at their school. These are Virginia values that I learned growing up in Loudoun.

Mark R. Herring

My family and I still make our home in Leesburg. I’m a product of Loudoun County Public Schools, my wife is proud to work in one, and our two children had amazing experiences and got great educations in Loudoun schools. That’s why I have followed our School Board’s ongoing debate on non-discrimination policies, particularly whether LGBT students and teachers should be protected from bullying and discrimination.

I have been really heartened to see the coalition that has come together to support this commonsense step. Unfortunately, a small but vocal contingent led largely by people from outside Loudoun is trying to stand in the way of what is really a non-controversial statement of our community’s longstanding commitment to equality.

As is often the case, those who oppose equal treatment for the LGBT community have tried to hide behind arguments about process because they don’t want to be the adults who say out loud that it is just fine for certain children to be singled out, bullied, or made to feel ashamed of themselves in a place that should be a safe and supportive environment for learning and development.

As part of their efforts to distract from the substance of the debate, opponents of equality have questioned the authority of the School Board to even enact these non-discrimination policies and tried to cast doubt on an official legal opinion I issued as Attorney General in 2015. After extensive research and consideration in conjunction with some of the sharpest legal minds in the Commonwealth, I concluded in that opinion that local school boards have the authority to protect their students and teachers from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Even before this official advisory legal opinion, several school boards had already enacted such policies. Following issuance of the opinion, many more added LGBT protections and these protections are now included in the model code of conduct used by many cities and counties. I have heard of precisely zero problems or concerns with protecting LGBT students and teachers in non-discrimination policies, and no one seems eager to reverse course.

This debate has real consequences for the quality of our schools and the experience of all our students. The Centers for Disease Control has found that LGBT students have been more likely to experience bullying or harassment in school, which coincides with increased likelihood of substance abuse, self-harm or even suicide as a result of the pain and stress. But the CDC also found that “going to a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and having caring and accepting parents…helps all youth achieve good grades and maintain good mental and physical health,” not just LGBT students.

When our School Board meets on Tuesday I hope they will carefully consider their authority to act and their responsibility to set the right tone in our schools. In my lifetime, Loudoun has undergone an incredible transformation as we have opened our arms to talented men and women from around the world and judged our friends, neighbors, and coworkers based only on their ability and their character.

With their vote, the Board has an opportunity to ignore all the noise and embrace where their students and this community already are. I hope the Board will send a clear message to students, teachers, and our entire Loudoun community about who we are and the way we value equality and inclusion.

Mark Herring is the 48th Attorney General of Virginia and a resident of Leesburg.

10 thoughts on “Herring: School Board Should Affirm Commitment to Inclusion

  • 2017-01-09 at 12:00 pm
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    If there is one certainty in Virginia and in Loudoun, it’s that AG Mark Herring will never pass up an opportunity to pander and create wedge political issues.

    Mark knows that if his legal opinion is sound, it will be upheld by the courts. He also knows that if it’s not sound, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. While it is his legal opinion, it carries absolutely no force of law.

    Nobody has disputed that kids should not be bullied. I am unaware of principals or administrators turning a blind eye to such bullying and/or harassment. So if we have an effective policy that bars such discrimination, why does Mark and all his political allies want this official policy enacted?

    Answer: Lawsuits. Take music instructor Brian Damron who allegedly (i) slept with 2 ~18-yr-olds who recently graduated after being Damron’s students, (ii) groped, used inappropriate language, and came on to a 15-yr-old in Florida, and (iii) failed to stop an 18-yr-old Dominion HS “band tech” from consuming alcohol on an official music trip in which Damron also shared the same room. Are we to believe that Damron would not have tried to cry LGBTQ harassment if he had been fired with this official policy in place?

    What’s worse is that it will cause others to refrain from reporting potentially predatory behavior. In 2009, US Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people while shouting “Allah Akbar”. Fellow soldiers acknowledged during interviews that Hasan had previously shown disturbingly anti-US sentiments based on the US involvement in the Middle East and against Muslims. Yet, nobody reported him for fear of being called anti-Muslim or potentially hurting their own careers.

    Sexual predators don’t prey on strong students. They prey on ones who are marginalized. Too often, others don’t get involved to protect themselves. This official policy may not only allow frivolous lawsuits (most EEOC complaints are already deemed frivolous) but it has the very real potential of discouraging reports of real predatory behavior. Predators will have an official policy that allows them to retaliate against whistleblowers.

    One’s race or sex never warrants discrimination. But one’s outwardly demonstration of other preferences can decrease effectiveness with impressionable children in the classroom. While it is possible to enforce a non-LGBTQ-discrimination policy objectively, that’s not the question. The question is whether it will be enforced objectively and whether it will deter whistleblowers from reporting inappropriate conduct.

    And given that we already know LCPS teachers are not evaluated on anything more than principals’ opinions, how hard will it become to dismiss an LGBTQ teacher whose performance is atrocious (no one is suggesting removing highly effective LGBTQ teachers).

    So let’s recap AG Mark Herring’s actions over the last few years:

    1. When informed that LCPS and other districts around Virginia were knowingly defrauding the US DoE’s attempt to ensure disadvantaged kids received a quality education, Herring …. took no action or showed any interest.

    2. When informed that LCSB members were violating conflict of interest laws (has since been confirmed by law enforcement), Herring ….. took no action or showed any interest.

    3. When informed that LCPS music instructor Brian Damron’s teaching certificate in Virginia is still in good standing years after he allowed an 18-yr-old hotel roommate to consume alcohol in his presence, Herring ….. took no action or showed any interest.

    And yet Mark Herring expects us to believe he cares about keeping our kids safe? Who is kidding whom?

  • 2017-01-09 at 8:37 pm
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    SGP – your attempt to link sexual attacks on children to the LGBTQ community is reprehensible. You have no basis for this position and fact actually discredit your stance.

    • 2017-01-10 at 11:01 am
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      CareerSwitcher, let’s go slow.

      1. I’m not saying that the LGBTQ community is more disposed to predatory attacks on children than the heterosexual community.

      2. I am saying that folks often overlook the potential for such attacks. While everyone is a sensitive when adult men are involved with young girls (say a coaching situation), most do not show the same concern for same sex environments (boy scouts, sports, etc.).

      3. We have clearly seen what happens when such situations are ignored. See Catholic priest scandal and Damron incidents. In fact, predators of both types seek out such situations.

      4. Due to the political correctness these days, folks are reticent to call attention to such possibilities and very hesitant to call a spade a spade. Had Damron preyed on young girls, every mother in Loudoun County would be screaming at the top of their lungs. But because he was LGBTQ and it was male-on-male, the reaction has been very muted.

      Policies have consequences. There is no alleged discrimination against LGBTQ teachers (none public at least). LCPS could have easily dismissed Damron in 2014 had he not resigned. However, if this policy had been in place, then Damron could clearly have filed an appeal/lawsuit over such termination (kids were 18+ and thus legal). A male teacher hitting on young girls would not be protected by such a policy. It is unclear if a LGBTQ teacher hitting on young boys but not consummating relationships till 18+ would have been protected.

      There is no need for such an official policy.

  • 2017-01-10 at 9:42 am
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    You don’t need a PhD in education to know that allowing high school boys to “self-identify” as girls and use a girls locker is a bad idea.

    • 2017-01-10 at 10:13 am
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      David – Students don’t need your permission to “self-identify” What are you proposing, mind patrol?

  • 2017-01-10 at 5:04 pm
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    That’s precisely what you’re pushing for “Career Switcher.” State-mandated bigotry, where some people are more equal than others, and the power of the state will enforce everyone’s thoughts.

    Labels = stereotyping.

    • 2017-01-10 at 8:25 pm
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      why is it that only those not being included in this “labeling” are the ones against it, and they say it is to protect those that are being “labeled?” The point here is to provide legal protection and recognition to those that are asking for it. If “they” want it, what is the problem giving it to “them?”

  • 2017-01-11 at 11:21 am
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    By your ‘logic’ CareerSwitcher, anyone should have the ability to label themselves, demand special legal protections which others don’t posses, and society must accept it. Do you fail to see how far out on the limb you’ve gone here? One set of rules for that group of people, and another set of rules for that group over there. That’s insane.

    For 50 years, we’ve been taught labels are bad. I actually thought progress was being made toward the goal of equality: No labels, no stereotypes. We are all equal.

    And then in a complete 180 degree turn, we’re suddenly told, “Oh no, equality sucks; we demand to go backwards and be labeled again!” A few who push to regress, bitterly clinging to the past of divide, bias, classification, and stereotypes. I feel sorry folks who live in such an uptight, conformal existence.

    • 2017-01-11 at 8:01 pm
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      Chris – what are you worried about here specifically? Labels are already around us. The truth of the matter is that there are still plenty of people who are bias against others simply because of who they are. These changes set up protection and recognition for those already labeled but need protection from those that can’t stand who they are. Protection for LGBTQ does not diminish protection for others. If anything, it extends it.

  • 2017-01-12 at 2:02 pm
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    I don’t worry about much CareerSwitcher. Rather, I’m completely dismayed by the perpetuation of labels, stereotypes, and special rules for some people, which all people don’t have.
    For 50 years we’ve continuously been admonished, lectured, and even threatened that labels are bad. Stereotyping is bad. Look beyond the outer person and strive to know the inner person. See people for who they are, not for what you think they are. That’s what I’ve been taught, and what I teach my kids.

    And now, without any hesitancy, reflection, or reason, it’s demanded we suddenly embrace labels, stereotypes, and accept that some people are better than other people. Sounds sort of familiar from the not too distant past, doesn’t it?

    It’s a vicious and immoral circle of division, pushed by hustlers, whose livelihood depends on a fractured society.

    What did Dr. King do it all for? Nigh on 50 years after his assassination, this is what we’ve achieved? Regressing back to everything he fought against? It’s sickening. Appalling. We’ll never escape this crap, and see a day when there are no white or black people, or yellow and brown people: There’s just people.

    It’s never going to happen because of government sanctioned bigotry and the regressive hustlers who demand an industry of victimization. Disgusting.

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