IWCS proposes adopting state transgender policies

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Isle of Wight County’s School Board is proposing verbatim adoption of several new transgender student policies the Virginia Department of Education released in July.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed legislation in 2020 requiring school boards to adopt policies “consistent with” or “more comprehensive than” model policies the VDOE released in 2021. The 2023 policy document developed under Northam’s Republican successor, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, rolls back many of the 2021 provisions, asserting them to have “promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools” that “disregarded the rights of parents.”

Proposed revisions to Isle of Wight County School Board Policy JFCAB, which pertains to student participation in school activities, assert that participation in sex-segregated extracurricular activities “shall be determined by sex rather than by gender identity.” “Sex” is defined in the policy as “biological sex” and the use of the term “transgender” is to be used to describe only students whose parents “have stated in writing that the student’s gender differs from the student’s sex” or students age 18 or older or legally emancipated.

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The draft policy revisions further specify that in cases where state or federal law require transgender students be allowed to use sex-segregated facilities, such as bathrooms, parents “shall be given the right” to have their children use alternative facilities “that promote the child(ren)’s privacy and safety.”

A draft revision of Policy JO, which pertains to student records, states that Isle of Wight County Schools would be “required to maintain an official record for each student that includes the student’s legal name and sex” and that personnel would “refer to each student using only the pronouns appropriate to the sex appearing in the student’s official record.” IWCS would further be prohibited from compelling its personnel “to address students or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights” or concealing “material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender.”

The language, taken verbatim from the 2023 model policies, is a reversal of the 2021 model policy document’s characterization of “intentional and persistent refusal” of school employees to use a transgender student’s preferred name and pronouns as “discriminatory,” and its assertion that “if a student is not ready or able to safely share with their family about their gender identity, this should be respected.”

An early draft of the IWCS policy went beyond the 2023 model language in stating “under no circumstances shall there be records kept, of any kind, including those kept by individual teachers, that identify a student by a name other than the student’s legal name.” This wording, however, was struck from the draft mid-afternoon on Sept. 12.

The draft policy states “every effort should be made to ensure that any student wishing to change his or her means of address is treated with dignity, respect, and compassion in the classroom and school environment,” but specifies teachers are to use an alternate name and/or pronouns only if a parent or a student who has reached adulthood makes such a request in writing.

Also struck mid-afternoon on Sept. 12 from the proposed wording of Policy GBA, which pertains to harrassment and bullying, was a requirement that school staff “provide a monthly report to the School Board listing each allegation of discrimination, harassment, or bullying to include the outcome of any investigation.”

Also taken verbatim from the 2023 model policies is language proposed to be added to Policy JFCAA, which pertains to student dress codes. The addition requires students to dress “in a manner consistent with maintaining a respectful, distraction-free environment,” but states students are “not required to dress in a gender neutral manner.”

The School Board is scheduled for a first reading of the draft policy changes at its Sept. 14 meeting.

A second reading, and possible vote, will follow at the board’s Oct. 12 meeting.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:41 p.m. on Sept. 12 to reflect two mid-afternoon changes IWCS made on Sept. 12 to the proposed wording of Policies JO and GBA.