School Board Hasn't Responded to FOIAs on Transgender Policy

By Lauretta Brown | October 16, 2015 | 10:44am EDT
A sign of changing times in public places. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Concerned parents in a Washington, D.C. suburb say the local school board acted hastily in making “gender identity” part of its non-discrimination policy, but those same public officials are in no rush to release behind-the-scenes information leading up to their controversial decision.

The Fairfax County (Va.) School Board is taking months, not the legally required five days, to respond to multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for all communications between school board members and state and federal officials regarding the board’s decision to include gender identity in its non-discrimination policies.

The FOIA requests, filed through Judicial Watch five months ago, are an attempt by Fairfax parents and residents to understand the discussions leading up to the policy change last May.

“The Fairfax County school system and school board has refused to comply with the Freedom of Information Law as it pertains to the release of information regarding communications between current board members, the Virginia Attorney General, the state legislature and federal officials regarding the passage of changes to Policy 1450,” former Fairfax County School Board member Mychele Brickner said in a statement. 

She suggested the upcoming November election may explain the delay in releasing the requested information.

Seven FOIA requests were submitted in April and May through Judicial Watch, one under Brickner’s name.

According to the Fairfax County web page, public agencies must provide requested records "within 5 working days after a (FOIA) request is received," or else explain why the records will not be disclosed.

“The administration charged $1,750 to compile the data that parents and taxpayers requested.  After getting the fee reduced to $560.32 and submitting the check, we still have no answers,” Brickner told CNSNews.com on Thursday.

Brickner told CNSNews.com that parents “became concerned” because of the “suspicious” timeline of events leading up to the school board’s quick decision.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion March 4, 2015 that school boards may change their non-discrimination policies to include gender identity without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly. Fairfax School Board Member at Large Ryan McElveen submitted a forum request to add gender identity to the board’s work calendar within hours of that opinion.

The policy change was adopted by the board in May despite heated objections from parents concerned over its implications. The change came just days after the circulation of a memo by Steven A. Lockard, the deputy superintendent, which claimed that if the board did not change the policy, the school system would fail to comply with federal law.

Brickner said the speed at which the changes occurred “leads you to believe that there must have been some communication going on between the attorney general and school board members who brought these things forward.”

Brickner also mentioned the difficulties she and other parents have had in their attempts to obtain a report on accommodations for transgender staff and students, which FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza promised to produce by the end of September.

“We still do not have the accommodations report that was supposed to be out by the end of September,” Brickner said. “I just believe they’re sitting on this information, waiting out till after the (November) election.”

Andrea Lafferty, head of the Traditional Family Values Coalition and a Fairfax resident who filed three of the FOIAs through Judicial Watch, told CNSNews.com that the School Board’s noncompliance is indicative of their re-election fears and the unexpected backlash that the transgender policy caused among parents. 

“They don’t want the voters, the taxpayers of Fairfax County to know any of this information until after November 3rd, and it’s interesting because they brought up this issue in an election year,” Lafferty said.

“They were quite bold about it, then they realized parents were concerned.  McElveen who brought this whole thing up, didn’t say a word,” she continued. “They are all afraid whether they’re running for re-election to the board or for supervisor.”

CNSNews.com request comments from FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza and board member Ryan McElveen, but received no response by press time.

The vote in May to adopt "gender identity" as a protected class in Fairfax County Public Schools was 10-1, with one person (Patricia Reed, Providence District) abstaining.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) was the only board member to vote against the policy change.

Those voting for it were: Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill), Kathy Smith (Sully), Tamara Kaufax (Lee), Megan McLaughlin (Braddock), Jane Strauss (Dranesville), Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), Sandy Evans (Mason), Ilryong Moon (at large), Ted Velkoff (at large), Ryan McElveen (at large).

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