Concerns about the use of school restrooms by transgender students continue to swirl across the nation, including Southwest Virginia. Calls on social media for parents and concerned citizens to attend school board meetings regarding state or local policies have created conflict in some areas.
The Smyth County School Board is scheduled to meet Monday, July 26, at 5 p.m. in the county administration building for the annual closeout of the past year with continued preparation for the upcoming year. There have been calls on social media for parents and concerned citizens to attend this meeting in regard to state policies.
The local board presented its current policy on this issue in May and has not altered the policy.
At the May board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dennis Carter said the school system has navigated this issue for the past 20 years and will continue the current protocol until the General Assembly issues guidelines in August.
Carter later issued a statement on this situation:
“The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other privacy laws limit our ability to describe the division’s practices regarding any individual student,” he said. “We will work individually with students who identify as nonbinary or transgender, typically together with their parents, to ascertain the arrangements appropriate for that student.”
“Typically,” Carter said, “nonbinary or transgender students (or their parents) approach administration to address this matter in advance. Not all student needs are the same. Students and families are strongly encouraged to work with school administrators in advance, rather than use a facility without first working with administration regarding their needs. Unisex or single stall facilities will be available to any and all students who wish to use them for whatever reason and without the need to ask for authorization.”
Smyth County Schools’ protocol, Carter said, is for transgender students to use the restroom appropriate to their gender at birth or use an individual restroom if needed. This is usually worked out at the start of the school year between the school and the student and parents.
“The division maintains strong policies aimed at protecting all students against harassment and discrimination, and establishing a strong code of student conduct,” Carter said in his statement. “We always expect all students to respect the privacy and honor the personal space of other students. The division is working very hard to address the concerns of all members of the school community while also complying with the constantly evolving legal landscape implicated by state and federal law.”
Following calls to the school board office by concerned parents, the board sent out a letter on July 23 signed by Carter to all families of Smyth County students.
The letter states:
“As you are likely aware, all public school boards in Virginia are required by state law to adopt policies concerning the treatment of transgender students and common issues regarding transgender students no later than the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. This requirement is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and Title IX, both of which have been legally interpreted to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment in public schools. The Virginia Department of Education published model policy language intended to serve as a starting point for public schools to meet the statutory requirement. The model policy language is designed to ensure a positive, safe, and nurturing learning environment for all students, based on the key philosophy that all children have a right to learn, free from discrimination and harassment.”
“The Smyth County School Board met during their regularly scheduled meeting on June 14 to consider a first reading of the policies and how our current policies meet the state requirement.”
“Through conversation with our legal counsel, Smyth County Public Schools policy manual regarding discrimination and harassment meets the requirements of state and federal law without the need for any additional language. The policy change adopted during the June 26 Smyth County School Board meeting merely adds a citation referencing the new Virginia statute and affirms our compliance with the law.”
“In addition,” wrote Carter, “all school boards and their employees are required by law to implement, observe, and enforce applicable school laws and regulations, which include both the state code requiring policies and the relevant components of federal law (Equal Protection and Title IX). Smyth County Public Schools practice over the last 20 or more years has been consistent with those legal requirements.”
Anyone with questions is invited to call the school board office at 276-783-3791 or local school.
The meeting on Monday includes a public comment session.
Items on the agenda include information about back to school events, a budget closeout update, and reminder of the Teacher of the Year luncheon scheduled Friday, Aug. 6, at Hungry Mother State Park.
The board will also consider the fee schedule for next year, allowing teachers at the career center and high schools to teach various additional sections during their planning periods for additional compensation, and approving a bid for playground equipment at Oak Point Elementary School.
A closed session will be held at the end of the meeting to discuss personnel for the upcoming year with any action taken upon returning to open session.