In a split vote, the Loudoun County School Board showed its support for prohibiting guns in all school division buildings and for backing policy that protects public employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Those were two of many items that made the final cut for the board’s 2019 Legislative Program, which will serve as a list of requests for changes in state law to the senators and delegates who represent Loudoun County in the Virginia General Assembly.
The approval of the gun-free language and the nondiscrimination language for LGBT employees was helped by the fact that the two chairs usually filled by the board’s most conservative members were empty. Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) was absent, and Eric DeKenipp resigned as the Catoctin District representative three weeks ago and his successor will not be appointed until Dec. 4.
The first amendment to the program was initiated by Joy Maloney (Broad Run). It states that the School Board supports adding language to state code that specifies that state and local public employees will not be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Members of the public have attended almost every regular board meeting for the past two years to urge the board to adopt a policy that clearly states that LGBT school system employees are protected from discrimination. The board voted in January 2017 to not add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the protected characteristics listed in its equal employment policy.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Maloney said the state Senate has passed a bill that would add nondiscrimination language specifically protecting members of the LGBT community to state code, but the House has voted it down. “As many people have been coming to our meetings month after month, and the Attorney General says we have the right to add this to our policy as a local school district, it would be even clearer if the Virginia state legislature also included it.”
In addition to Maloney, Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), and board members Beth Huck (At Large) and Tom Marshall (Leesburg) supported adding that line.
Debbie Rose (Algonkian) made the motion to delete a line in the program that requests that state lawmakers pass legislation that would designate all school board-owned and leased property as gun-free zones. Right now, state law only prohibits guns on school campuses, not on properties such as the school administration building or the school system’s transportation facility.
All board members agreed that schools should be designated gun-free buildings, but were split on whether guns should be allowed in other facilities. Rose said the designation may make board members feel good but may not actually do any good. “The research seems inconclusive whether or not a gun-free zone actually works…I can’t imagine that someone who is so bent on evil action at some point would think I’m not going to carry through my action because this building here is a gun-free zone.”
Maloney noted that “there is already a gun here,” referring to the armed deputy who is present at each board meeting. “Knowing there would be other people with weapons here—that does not make me feel any safer. Most incidents with guns are actually accidental,” she said. “I think the best thing would be to have your gun locked in your vault.”
Rose’s motion failed 1-6-2, with only Rose in support.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said he decided to vote in support of making the school administration building and other facilities gun-free after he asked administrators, teachers and other employees their preference. “I was somewhat surprised the vast majority of people were in favor of having a gun-free zone in the facility they worked. They were concerned they’d be more likely to be shot by a coworker who got angry and happened to have a weapon on them than a stranger walking in with a weapon.”
Rose also made a motion to delete a line from the program that asks the state to allow school boards to retain any unspent money; right now they must return unspent funds back to the county. “I feel that is an important check and balance and without that checks and balance, there could be some unwise expenditures that the taxpayers don’t approve of,” she said.
Morse agreed, but the rest of the board voted against removing that request.
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) argued that the current model creates a “use it or lose it situation,” as opposed to encouraging school leaders to spend taxpayer money wisely.
The board adopted the final 2019 Legislative Program on a 6-2-1 vote, with two board members absent and Rose opposed.
Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who oversaw the creation of the program as chairwoman of the Legislative and Policy Committee, thanked her colleagues for having a respectful debate about their legislative priorities. “We don’t always agree but we always have a respectful conversation. I appreciate that and I’m proud to move this forward and present it to our legislators.”
Board members will present the program to Loudoun’s state delegation at the annual Legislative Breakfast in December.