Two months ago, the Fairfax County School Board added “gender identity” to its nondiscrimination policy amid a hail storm of outrage from its community. However, at the Arlington School Board’s July 1 meeting, a similar update passed quietly. The Arlington School Board voted to update the human relations, hiring and anti-bullying guidelines to provide protection for gender identity or expression.
The policy update puts Arlington School Board in line with the Department of Education Office of Civil Right’s April 2015 interpretation of Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Arlington Public Schools’ list of prohibited forms of discrimination now includes: race, national origin, creed, color, religion, gender, age, economic status, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity or expression, and/or disability.
Arlington follows Fairfax County, Charlottesville, and Alexandria as the fourth school district in the state to adopt protections for gender identity. At the meeting, no speakers had signed up for public comment on the issue. School Board member Abby Raphael said she believed that the lack of public comment on the topic was a sign of the issue’s acceptance by the community.
However, other members of the School Board acknowledged that the timing of the vote may have had something to do with the lack of comment. The vote on the update was originally scheduled to take place at the School Board’s June meeting, but Arlington Public Schools Public Information Officer Frank Bellavia said the vote was postponed from June to align the wording of the discrimination policies. Some policies referred to “sex” where others referred to “gender.” School Board member James Lander acknowledged that he had received a number of emails expressing concerns about the process.
“There was a perception that somehow this board would pass this policy, which includes language about gender identity and expression, behind closed doors and without transparency,” said Lander. “That’s something, as a board, that we feel very strongly about … I would have loved to have done it in September, but it just so happened to fall off of an earlier agenda item in June that we just didn’t have time to get to and it fell to July.”
The School Board voted unanimous approval of the update.
“It was clear from the beginning that we were going to do this,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen, “I don’t think there was ever any disagreement.”
School Board member Nancy Van Doren described the update as catching up with paperwork.
School Board Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez also praised the update for including national origin and for changing handicaps to disabilities.