Surry schools adopt state transgender policies

Published 2:05 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. to correct the split of the vote. 

Surry County’s School Board on Sept. 12 voted 4-1 to adopt new transgender student policies the Virginia Department of Education released in July.

According to the meeting’s recorded minutes, Vice Chairwoman Valencia Jones Williams cast the dissenting vote.

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Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed legislation in 2020 requiring schools adopt policies “consistent with” or “more comprehensive than” model policies the VDOE released in 2021. The 2023 version the VDOE developed under Northam’s Republican successor, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, rolls back many of the 2021 provisions.

The 2023 model policy document, titled “Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools,” asserts the 2021 policies to have “promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools” that “disregarded the rights of parents.”

Among the model policies Surry’s School Board has adopted, one requires that participation in sex-segregated extracurricular activities or athletics be determined by biological sex rather than gender identity. The new language is a reversal of a model policy developed under Northam that had required schools to allow student participation in sex-segregated extracurricular activities “in a manner consistent with their gender identity” and had left athletic participation to the discretion of the Virginia High School League.

The VHSL did not immediately respond when contacted by The Smithfield Times for comments on whether its transgender student policies would change.

The VDOE asserts in its 2023 model policy document that the 2021 policies “have no further force and effect.”

Another of the new policies, which Surry has adopted verbatim, requires school personnel to address students using “only the pronouns appropriate to the sex appearing in the student’s official record.”

The language also forbids schools from compelling employees to address or refer to students in “any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights” and from concealing “material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender.” This too, is a reversal from the 2021 policies, which had characterized “intentional and persistent refusal” of school employees to use a transgender student’s preferred name and pronouns as “discriminatory,” and had asserted “if a student is not ready or able to safely share with their family about their gender identity, this should be respected.”

When state or federal law requires schools to permit transgender students to use bathroom and locker room facilities corresponding to their gender identity, Surry’s adoption of the 2023 model policies now requires that parents be given the right to opt their child out of using communal facilities and instead be allowed to use “alternative facilities that promote the child’s privacy and safety.”

The model policy language has been added to two Surry policies, designated JFHA-R and GBA-R.

Isle of Wight County’s School Board is also proposing verbatim adoption of the 2023 model policy language and is scheduled to discuss and vote on the matter at its Oct. 12 meeting.