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Fairfax County schools and the transgender question

First slide

Before they can fill their lockers with magnets or compare class schedules with their friends, children in the Fairfax County Public School system will be asked to sign a Student Rights and Responsibilities document - an acknowledgement that they understand the school's rules.

But Elizabeth Schultz, a second term county school board member and parishioner at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, believes the language in the non-discrimination section of the document could prove problematic for people who believe that gender is not a choice, but a biological fact.

Potentially, the way it's written now, students could — under the discretion of the faculty of the building — be disciplined for not complying with gender identity pronouns or acceptance

“Potentially, the way it's written now, students could - under the discretion of the faculty of the building - be disciplined for not complying with gender identity pronouns or acceptance,” she said.

Schultz addressed about 150 Catholics at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Springfield July 26 to talk about the progression of transgender policy both in the county and in the United States. Fellow board member, the newly elected Tom Wilson, also was present, along with pastor Father John C. De Celles.

The Catholic Church teaches that God created man in his own image: male and female. Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2012 Christmas address, said, “This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. … When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied,” the pope said.

In his recent apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love,”)Pope Francis similarly decried an “ideology of gender that 'denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.' ” He noted that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for 'thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation … An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves.'”

Schultz believes that all students and school employees have a right to profess this belief. It is not a form of discrimination or of bullying, which should never be tolerated. “(Transgender students) are sons and daughters of Christ and nobody should be bullied,” she said. “But if our children are exemplars of their faith and live by truth, there's nothing to be afraid of.”

The controversy over transgender policy began last year, when the county school board added the words “gender identity” to the county schools' nondiscrimination policy. Schultz said that she was shocked at how quickly the policy was changed, with so little opportunity for parent or community involvement. “When we looked at later start times (for schools) it took 10 years, multiple consultants, (and an) engagement processes (to reach a conclusion),” she said. “And yet, within weeks, this went from appearing on the board's agenda to being passed on May 7 of 2015.”

Subsequently, the Family Life Education committee, which writes the county schools' teaching norms on sexuality, came forward with proposed “sweeping changes to the curriculum,” said Schultz. The issue arose again several months ago when the county school board decided to insert language into the student rights and responsibilities document codifying non-discrimination on the grounds of gender identity.

Schultz said she also was concerned with the seeming hierarchy of rights that was being established. If a transgender student felt uncomfortable using a certain bathroom, but a religious student objected to their invasion of privacy from someone of the opposite sex, who would win? Schultz asked. “Basically, what we're being told is there is a segregation of rights. Gender identity comes first,” she said.

On May 13, 2016, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released a joint “Dear Colleague” letter on transgender policy. Among other things, it asserts that public schools must treat all students according to their gender identity, not their biological sex. Schools are required to allow transgender students unfettered access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. During overnight trips, they should be placed with students of their gender identity, not biological sex.

These policies upend many of the current arrangements created by school districts for transgender students, including other Virginia counties. Yet how to proceed is far from clear.

Twenty-one states have sued the federal government for this interpretation of Title IX, muddying the waters for public schools. After debating new transgender language for the Family Life Education curriculum this summer, the Fairfax County board decided to pause further implementation of its transgender policy until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a petition from the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia.

“Right now, we're going back to what we were doing before, which is to handle each on a case by case basis, meeting the individual needs of that student in concert with the parents and educators of that building,” Schultz said.

Until the courts decide, Schultz encourages parents to let their voices be heard. She advises they opt their children out of Family Life Education and encourage their children not to sign the student rights and responsibilities document. She also hopes parents can pressure the board to provide a conscientious objector status for employees who do not want to teach the new Family Life Education curriculum, when and if it is implemented.

Many at the meeting supported Schultz's message. “We need to speak out about this,” said one mother. “It's an uncomfortable position to be in but we have to be the bold ones to say, 'This is wrong.' ”

One father said neither his son nor his wife will be signing the student rights and responsibilities document, regardless of the consequences. “What will happen, will happen. I hope I won't be the only one,” he said.

The Fairfax County School system is the 10th largest in the nation, with 187,000 children, 40,000 employees and a $3 billion budget. Though Catholic parents can avoid the system by enrolling their children in Catholic schools or by homeschooling, Schulz urged those gathered to consider the other students. “Sooner or later, these are the children that are going to make up our next society,” she said.

To learn more, visit  Concerned Parents and Educators .


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016