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Stafford school board votes in support of transgender revisions to nondiscrimination policies

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Correction: A previous version of this article used statements from an amended proposal of policy 2420 not the final version approved Sept. 10. We regret the error. 

The Stafford County School Board voted 4-3 in favor of revisions to its nondiscrimination policies 4107 and 2420 that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as proposed by Superintendent Scott Kinzer. The vote was part of the agenda during the board's regular meeting at the Alvin York Bandy Administrative Complex Sept. 10.

More than 200 people attended the meeting causing a need for increased security and an overflow location. The policy revisions went through several changes over several weeks even up to the day it was put to a vote. 

While previous versions of the 2420 policy included specific guidelines, the final version was more general. 

The approved policy 2420 states, “No student shall be denied equal access to programs, activities, services or benefits or be limited in the exercise of any right, privilege or advantage based on race, color, national origin, political affiliation, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity. Educational programs shall be designed to meet the varying needs of all students. It is the intent of the School Board of Stafford County that every policy, practice, regulation, and procedure shall reflect this commitment. Behavior that is not unlawful may nevertheless be unacceptable for the learning environment. Demeaning or otherwise harmful actions are prohibited.”

The policy further states, “The superintendent/designee shall be responsible for developing a plan that implements the intent of the board as set forth in this policy … ”

Before voting, the board heard statements from 83 citizens who were allotted three minutes each for their comments. Many parishioners from St. William of York Church in Stafford attended along with representatives from the Virginia Catholic Conference. The first to speak was Deacon Jim Benisek from St. William of York, who questioned how the proposed policy would impact the privacy concerns of the students.

“I do not believe that all of the members of this board can answer that simple question,” said Deacon Benisek. “You are passing this policy to let an unelected and unaccountable staff member or the courts determine the meaning of the policy. This is bad legislative practice and will result in a waste of taxpayer dollars.”  

Deacon Benisek was followed by Father Robert J. DeMartino, pastor of St. William of York.

In an interview before the meeting, Father DeMartino said, “I’m the pastor of this entire community by canon law. I need to be here. Every person is searching for happiness but you can’t build happiness on a lie. I’m not opposed to anyone here. I’m here for them and their eternal welfare.”

The final vote came shortly after midnight in favor of the policy. 

Middle-school English teacher Anne Adams was among those who spoke in favor of the policy saying that although she has never had a bullying issue while integrating a transgender child in her classroom in her 22 years as a teacher she still feels it protects transgender students and those teachers who want to support them. 

While the new policy approval may seem like an equal rights win to supporters, it is unclear if the religious rights of teachers and students of faith will be respected or if they will be considered demeaning.

A previous version of the policy proposed by Kizner stated that school staff shall honor a student's request to be addressed by the student’s preferred name and gender pronoun and shall permit the student to use the restroom, locker room or changing facility consistent with the student’s asserted gender identity. 

The previous version went on to discuss transgender students’ inclusion in sex-segregated classes, extracurricular activities and interscholastic athletic activities, and accommodations for overnight field trips.

It also stated that if a high school student expressed discomfort with a transgender student’s use of the same sex-segregated restroom, school administrators and counseling staff may address the discomfort and foster an understanding of gender identity. 

Many opponents of the policy worry that although the approved policy does not specifically include these provisions, many of them will be implemented under Kizner. 

Kassock is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019