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Newport News School Board Vote Denies Transgender Students Protection Under State Law
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Rather than change the school’s policies by the start of the new school year, the Newport News School Board ignored state guidelines on transgender student protections.

The board was asked to change current policies so that transgender people are protected more explicitly. To accommodate state guidelines, the district also planned to assemble a group to update the district’s procedure documents.

Among the first in Hampton Roads, Newport News is one of the largest districts and one of the biggest in the state that has refused to follow the new law. After a long and crowded meeting, the vote was taken. As a result of the large attendance, many of them from just one church, the district set up an overflow area in the building’s lobby.

  
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In a 5-1 vote, board members opposed the change, with Terri Best abstaining. Gary Hunter was the only one who voted for it. Board members complained about the guidelines, stating that they were uncomfortable with parts of them.

Before the vote, Douglas Brown said that the district could spend more time on the procedures before revisiting them. According to him, as it stands, the law violates the rights of Christian parents who believe kids aren’t capable of choosing their own gender.

The law that violates the Constitution is a bad law, Brown said to cheers from the lobby. “In this case, the Constitution is violated.”

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Using their preferred names and pronouns, as well as letting them use a bathroom matching their gender, schools should accept students who don’t identify with the gender assigned at birth. Additionally, the policy prohibits discrimination and limits when and if school staff must inform parents of their transgender child’s status.

Church members and board members made the claim that school personnel would be forbidden from telling parents if their children came out in school. As far as school administrators are concerned, they will continue to do things the way they have – by encouraging students to work with school counselors and social workers to come up with a plan to tell their families about the illness.



“We definitely support a student speaking to a parent and supporting that conversation,” said Superintendent George Parker. “We would also understand and respect that if a student is afraid or uncomfortable with that level of engagement, we’ll have to find other ways.”

Some research has shown that affirming transgender children reduces suicidal thoughts, according to state education leaders and advocates. According to a study cited in the model policies, children who are respected for their gender have similar rates of depression and anxiety.

Prior to the vote, Parker recounted an incident when he was a principal when he called a student out for wearing a skirt to school. Years later, it occurred to him that the student might not be acting out just for attention, but might also be transgender.

“Here I am 15 years later, and I’m understanding that I possibly discriminated against the student back in the day when I was principal because there was no policy and there was no procedure,” Parker said.

There is no mention of what happens to school divisions that do not follow the law. When school divisions violate the law, there are no penalties. In some places, such as Russell County, school boards openly ignore it.

Christian advocacy groups challenged the model policies in court last month, but a judge ruled they had no right to do so. While the state is fighting the lawsuit, attorneys have told the court that schools that are not passing policies will not be denied funding.

Director of legal services for the district, Len Wallin, warned that the state could seek an injunction against it to force it to comply. Injunctions could open them to court-imposed penalties, even though the state is not withholding money.

While other Virginia school boards have seen mass protests this summer, the Newport News School Board has not. Many opponents of the model policies have also opposed racial equity efforts and masking.

A public comment session was held for an hour on each of the three topics during the meeting, and more people attended than any Newport News board meeting in months.

Pentecostal churches from Denbigh were a majority of those attending the meeting. A majority of World Outreach Worship Center’s 1,200 members oppose the policies, says pastor Russell Evenson.

WOW Center has been advertising the board meeting for weeks, inviting members no matter where they live in Newport News to attend. A clip showing a slide of board members was shown during an Aug. 8 worship service broadcast on Facebook by Evenson.

“They are not the enemy,” Evenson told his congregation. “There is an anti-Christ spirit that wants to influence the whole world but wants to influence the city and wants to influence Hampton Roads.”



 

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