When the members of the School Board reconvene on May 7, they’re scheduled to act on whether or not to add “gender identity” to the list of nondiscrimination categories for all Fairfax County Public Schools students, employees or applicants for employment. The current list in the board’s policy item 1450 includes age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, marital status and disability.
A new business item at the board’s April 23 meeting was a recommendation to adopt this policy change, “To ensure conditions of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the school system” (language from the draft new policy).
The proposed change drew several speakers during the citizen participation portion of the meeting.
Del. Bob Marshall (R-13), representing parts of Prince William and Loudoun counties, opposed adding gender identity to the nondiscrimination list based on the board lacking the authority to do so.
“Seven Attorney Generals from 1982 through 2010, in eight opinions, all concluded that the General Assembly is the only body with authority to establish or change public policy to define classes for forbidden discrimination,” Marshall said in his remarks. “In that time, five Attorney Generals published six formal opinions dealing with local government including school boards.”
Marshall and other speakers also referenced an opinion issued earlier this year by current Attorney General Mark R. Herring that local school boards can, in fact, include sexual orientation and gender identity as part of nondiscrimination policies. Herring said the state constitution and law provide “power fairly implied from the express grant of authority.”
However Marshall urged the board to look at a larger body of past opinions “in light of possible citizen legal response.”
Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition and mother of a school-age child in Fairfax County, also opposed the policy change.
“There is a way to accommodate transgender students and still protect the other students’ privacy rights, and the rights of parents,” Lafferty said in her remarks. She referenced a public School Board discussion in March that she said “none of the important issues of concern or the real issues to be faced,” such as bathrooms, changing rooms and the impact of teachers in the classroom.
“Children need and deserve a psychologically stable and emotionally secure environment in which to learn — your policy change threatens this,” Lafferty said.
West Potomac High School teacher and sponsor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Robert Rigby favored the policy change.
“From hearing from students and parents, I can say that harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation have decreased during my time working for Fairfax,” Rigby said in his remarks. “However, transgender students students and students who do not display traditional gender expression continue to experience a great degree of of harassment; their friends and family members also hear some amazingly negative comments.”
Manny Solon, a Fairfax County resident, also spoke in favor of the change, comparing having a gender identity different from your body to Alzheimer’s disease.
“To have that feeling and to not be able get out and express yourself is a hell on earth,” Solon said, “and I think we owe it to ourselves and to these kids, who are our kids to go and speak up for them.”
The next meeting of the Fairfax County School Board will be at 7 p.m. on May 7 at Luther Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road in Falls Church. To email the School Board, contact email@example.com. More information about requesting to speak at meetings is available at www.fcps.edu/schlbd/meetings/requestspeak.shtml.