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Why Loudoun County's proposed transgender student policy is required under a new state law

Loudoun County Public Schools (File){p}{/p}
Loudoun County Public Schools (File)

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Tuesday marked the latest round of controversy over a proposed policy regarding the treatment of transgender students in Loudoun County.

Just prior to a 4 p.m. school board meeting, people on both sides of the debate gathered outside the administration building for Loudoun County Public Schools.

Then once the meeting began, hundreds of people moved inside. An LCPS spokesperson said more than 200 people had signed up to speak during public comment.

It didn't take long for things to get heated inside the meeting room, and board members abruptly ended public comment.

The meeting was put under a recess and the public comments continued outside without the school board, 7News' Anna-Lysa Gayle reports.

One person was reportedly arrested before the meeting was suspended.

LCPS released the following statement just before 7 p.m.

The Loudoun County School Board ended the public comment section of its June 22 meeting on a unanimous vote after Chair Brenda L. Sheridan repeatedly warned the attendees in the Board Room that loud public demonstrations violated the decorum of the meeting. Sheridan had previously, and repeatedly, warned the public after introducing the public comment section with a reading of School Board Policy 2520. Earlier the chair recessed the School Board meeting for five minutes due to disruptions before the unanimous vote to end public comment was taken. At 6:30 p.m., the business portion of the meeting resumed.

This all comes after Leesburg Elementary teacher Tanner Cross spoke out against the school district's proposed policy regarding the treatment of transgender students on May 25. Cross said the policy violated his religious beliefs. Cross also said he wouldn't call transgender students by their preferred pronouns.

“I love all of my students, but I would never lie to them regardless of the consequences. I’m a teacher, but I serve God first and I will not affirm a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion, it’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God,” Cross said at the May 25 school board meeting.

LCPS placed Cross on administrative leave after his comments in May.

RELATED: Loudoun County releases parent feedback on transgender student policy before Aug. 10 vote

In June, Cross won a temporary injunction and a judge ordered his reinstatement. A few days later, LCPS said it would appeal the court's decision to allow Cross to return to work to the Commonwealth's Supreme Court.

RELATED: Judge: Leesburg teacher who spoke out against gender policy can return to work

Cross has filed a lawsuit against LCPS. Cross's lawyers believe LCPS violated his right to free speech when they disciplined him after his comments before the school board.

"Advocating for causes I believe in, on my personal time, should not cost me my job," Cross said in June. "LCPS should not require me to violate my conscience and lie to my students. I care too much for my students to lie to them."

RELATED: Loudoun Co. schools' new superintendent on challenges, controversy, & plans for next year

In an interview on June 15, 7News asked new LCPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler why the school district is appealing the court's decision to allow Cross to return to work

"Because we think it sends a strong message to our transgender students and families that we are with you and we support you," said Ziegler.

In a statement about the appeal, LCPS said Leesburg Elementary School and Loudoun County Public Schools have experienced "significant disruption" since the May 25 School Board meeting during which Cross addressed the board.

Now, 7News is taking a closer look at the policy at the center of this ongoing controversy.

State Senator Jennifer Boysko said the transgender student policy proposed in Loudoun County Public Schools is actually required under a new state law.

"I would like to clarify for the public to understand that the the new policies that you all are undertaking have been mandated by the state board of education, in part by legislation that I carried," Boysko said during a June 8 school board meeting in Loudoun County.

Boysko is referring to Senate Bill 161, which she sponsored, the legislature approved, and Governor Ralph Northam signed into law in 2020.

It requires the Virginia Department of Education to "develop and make available to each school board model policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools".

The legislation calls for that VDOE model policy to include information, guidance, procedures, and standards relating to:

  • Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws
  • Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students
  • Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment
  • Maintenance of student records
  • Identification of students
  • Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information
  • Enforcement of sex-based dress codes
  • Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. Activities and events do not include athletics.

The legislation also requires local school boards to to adopt policies "that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department of Education", and says those policies must be in place in school districts no later than the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

7News checked with other Northern Virginia school districts and found several have already approved policies regarding the treatment of transgender students that meet the requirements of the new state law.

You can view the model policy developed by the Virginia Department of Education by clicking here.

"Those Policies were developed by combining well-established best practices with input from teachers, administrators, parents, and students throughout Virginia," Senator Boysko (D - District 33) told 7News in a statement. "By implementing those Policies, school boards across Virginia will ensure that all students, including transgender students, will feel welcome at school and be able to benefit from the great education those districts provide."

7News also spoke to Delegate Marcus Simon (D- District 53), who sponsored the house version of that legislation.

"All students are entitled to come to school safe, where they can learn with dignity and be treated with respect," said Delegate Simon. "And so we thought it was important to at least establish a baseline based on science and social science done by experts, and give that as a tool for school systems across the Commonwealths to set up their own policies."

Simon said he's aware of the recent debate over Loudoun County's proposed policy regarding the treatment of transgender students, including the comments made by teacher Tanner Cross.

The lawmaker feels that recent case highlights the need for a statewide law mandating polices on this particular issue.

"When I heard about this case, I thought this really highlights the need for this policy and this kind of uniformity across the state," he said. "We can't have policies where each teacher decides on their own what's best for students. That's why we have a state board of education, that's why we adopt rules, that's why we have some uniformity."

7News compared some of the language used in Loudoun County's proposed transgender student policy with the model policy developed by the Virginia Department of Education.

In the section about student identification, the VDOE model policy says: "Schools shall allow students to use a name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence. School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their gender identity."

The model policy also acknowledges that "genuinely innocent confusion or uncertainty that may come up from school staff and students", but says that a school employee’s "intentional and persistent refusal" to respect a student’s name and pronoun is considered discriminatory.

The policy proposed in Loudoun County says: "LCPS staff shall allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their consistently asserted gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record. School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent/legal guardian, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their consistently asserted gender identity."

The proposed LCPS policy says that "inadvertent slips in the use of names or pronouns may occur; however, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy".

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While the policy is on the LCPS school board agenda for discussion on Tuesday evening, a final vote is not expected until August.

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