After hours of public comments Tuesday forced its meeting to carry over to a second day, the School Board last night adopted the controversial Policy 8040, protecting the rights of transgender and gender expansive students, on a 7-2 vote.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) and John Beatty (Catoctin) opposed the measure.
The policy was drafted to comply with the General Assembly mandate that was passed in March 2020 requiring school districts implement such protections before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. School districts that do not adopt such a policy will be held liable for any incidents or litigation against the school districts in consequence of not providing the protections.
Under the policy, trans students have the right to be addressed by their chosen names and pronouns, and to use facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The public comment portion of the meeting featured over 150 people sign up to speak. The procedure for comment was revised, limiting the public’s access to the board room. The changes to procedure were a response to the June 22 meeting, when an unruly crowd during public comment was cleared after being declared an unlawful assembly. Numerous parents expressed their discomfort with the prospect of their children being exposed to members of the opposite sex in bathrooms.
Morse, who has been vocal about his concerns of the policy for months, explained that he felt ill at ease with several stipulations in the policy. He delivered a lengthy speech, arguing that such policies don’t exist to protect all marginalized groups, and passing Policy 8040 would necessitate passing similar protections for other groups. He pointed to Policy 1040, which already provides students with an equal opportunity for a safe, inclusive learning environment.
Morse also had pause with nebulous wording in the policy, suggesting that the lack of specificity could land the district in legal trouble. He argued that the protections were redundant, as teachers already treat students respectfully.
“Teachers are not monsters who pick on at-risk kids, and they don’t need to be told to love their students. They already do,” Morse said.
Morse’s statement prompted an impassioned response from Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge).
“I hope this is not the case, but it sounds as if you think bullying of LGBTQ students in LCPS is a thing of the past and it doesn’t happen today, and if you believe that, I would encourage you to speak to more gay and transgender students, because I don’t know how you could say that with a straight face,” Serotkin said.
Many who oppose the policy see it as divisive of families, because students are permitted to identify as a different gender while at school, without parents being notified.
The meeting featured two student representatives to the School Board, who provided comment on the policy. Jamie Kaine, a Heritage High School senior, shared her support of the policy.
“I have been able to use the girls’ bathrooms and the girls’ restrooms freely, and I would feel no fear and no intimidation from transgender women being in the same bathroom, as well, because transgender women are women,” Kaine said. “These are not people that are coming into the bathroom to look at us or creep on us, that is not the goal of this movement and I think that often gets confused and I understand the fear but that’s not realistic.”
The board amended the draft policy prior to the vote, to require schools to update bathroom facilities to provide more privacy by adding stalls and gender-neutral bathrooms in coming years.
Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) expressed her support of the policy prior to the vote. She addressed the vitriolic and hateful messages she and fellow board members received in months prior over their support of the policy.
“I feel the responsibility to bear the burden of the negative comments and heinous emails, voicemails, and threats that I’ve received in order to see Policy 8040 passed and implemented to ensure a safe and affirming environment in Loudoun County Public Schools for our transgender and expansive students,” Sheridan said.