Public Schools in D.C. Suburbs May Make ‘Gender Identity’ a Protected Class

Lauretta Brown | April 30, 2015 | 10:59am EDT
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A sign marks the entrance to a gender neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington. (AP File Photo)

( – The school board in Fairfax County, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., plans to vote May 7 on a proposal to add gender identity as a protected group to the district’s nondiscrimination policy.

School board member Ryan McElveen proposed the change based on the recent opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) which reverses a 2002 opinion and grants local school boards the authority to expand nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s critical for Fairfax County, as the largest school division in the state, to make the statement that we unequivocally protect, value and embrace all of our students and employees for who they are,” the Washington Post quoted McElveen as saying of the proposal.

However the proposal has met with opposition from Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz, concerned parents, and some state delegates who claim that the implications of such a change have not been addressed.

“We have no presentations about what the implications are, what the actual, real-life implications are and how this translates to the way a school functions and how our facilities are set up and what this means for parental rights,” School Board member Elizabeth Schultz told Tuesday. “We’ve had no parent or public engagement of any sort, and so this is a little bit like passing a policy to find out what’s in it, and I think that’s not very good governing.”

Schultz questioned if the new policy would allow “a student of any age” with “gender confusion” to use opposite-sex bathrooms and locker rooms.

“What do we do if that happens in the high school level and…it does involve locker rooms for sports teams, for athletic clubs, for physical education. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know who decides -- you know, is it just somebody who says that they have this issue? Do they need to be undergoing some treatments? Do we need to have a medical doctor?

“There are very complex issues here that they’re struggling with and we want to respect people’s struggles, but that doesn’t mean that you undermine the rights of 99.7 percent of our population to provide special privileges and you create a protected class for a very, very tiny group of people, and that’s a significant concern,” Schultz emphasized.

“Where are students’ rights and where are parents’ rights and where are rights of other staff members?” she asked.

Two Virginia Republican delegates also expressed concerns at a recent school board meeting.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) and Del. David A. LaRock (R) cited case law in their argument that the school board does not have the authority to create protected classes.

“Seven attorney generals from 1982 to 2010 in eight opinions all concluded that the General Assembly is the only body with authority to establish or change public policy to define classes of individuals of forbidden discrimination,” Marshall told those gathered.

Former Fairfax County School Board member, Mychele Brickner, echoed Schultz’s concerns, telling, “I believe that as parents learn about this and comment to the school board through e-mail or voicemail that they don’t want this type of thing -- I mean this has tentacles that could reach into the far reaches of the school system.”

Brickner said that a male second grade teacher, for example, under this new policy could come to class dressed as a woman and ask to be referred to as a woman. “How does that impact on the children?” she asked. “And the parents? It impacts on everyone, and nobody can answer these questions.”

Brickner also emphasized that this change is not needed.

“We already have a non-discrimination policy -- that is policy 1450 -- and it prohibits any type of discrimination based on sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity,” she explained. “I am not certain why they want to go ahead and put this in because I believe there are major ramifications for putting the language in there.”

Traditional Values Coalition President and Fairfax resident Andrea Lafferty is urging Fairfax parents and taxpayers to voice their objections.

"Of course, we are concerned for those psychologically unhealthy individuals who are confused and don't identify with the body parts they were assigned at birth. These people deserve our understanding and require counseling and other help,” Lafferty said in a statement.

"But our overriding concern must be with the vast majority of students who harbor no confusion about their sexual identity. Parents who object to exposing children to this confused behavior should not be forced to subordinate their sincerely held beliefs in order to accommodate the condition of a very small group of individuals.

"The tyranny of a very small minority must not be allowed to dictate a practice which is contrary to the more common sense beliefs of the majority," Lafferty concluded.

Parents have weighed in on both sides of the issue.

Steve Hinkley, an Alexandria resident and middle school parent, believes Fairfax should change the policy.

“I think it’s great that they would take a lead and show the rest of the nation that everybody should be treated equally,” he told Washington’s ABC affiliate WJLA-TV.

However Alex Strong, a father of four students in the school system, told the local FOX news station that he is against changing the current policy.

“While I respect any individual and their choices and what they do in their life, that's something I feel at an elementary school age is just too soon to have to deal with,” he said.

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