Following a turbulent public comment session that ended with the public being escorted out of the boardroom, the School Board discussed Policy 8040, which provides protections for transgender and gender expansive students.
Groups rallied in the parking lot ahead of the school board meeting. The Allies of Loudoun demonstrated in support of LGBTQ+ students in schools. Members of the LGBTQ+ community addressed the crowd and activists led the public in prayer.
The conservative activist group Fight for Schools held an opposing rally, where opponents of the district’s racial equity work and proposed transgender rights policy voiced their concerns and frustrations with the School Board. The group, continuing with its countywide recall campaign for school board members, passed around clipboards to collect signatures for those petitions. The group also sent a billboard truck with an ad to recall Beth Barts (Leesburg).
While the policy won’t be voted on until August, groups saw the school board meeting as one final opportunity to express their outrage over the matter.
The policy complies with the Virginia state mandate that school districts enact protections for transgender and gender expansive students no later than the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
After an impassioned public comment from former Virginia state senator Dick Black opposing the policy, resulting in cheering from the audience, the school board called off public comment. Black stood on a chair to sing the National Anthem.
Superintendent Scott Ziegler ordered deputies to clear the board room. The discussion of the policy took place hours later, when the board reconvened without a live audience.
Asia Jones, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services, reminded board members that policy 1040, Equal Opportunity for Equitable, Safe and Inclusive Environment, already provides many protections for transgender students. She said that there are transgender students in the school system, and to date there have not been any issues accommodating the needs of those students.
“We work very diligently to provide very affirming, welcoming, and safe learning environments for all of our children,” said Jones.
Under the policy, transgender students have the right to be addressed using their chosen pronouns. However, students’ gender identities are not shared with teaching staff publicly.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) noted that, without that knowledge, some teachers might mistakenly address students by the wrong pronoun. Ziegler responded that it hasn’t been an issue so far.
“Not knowing the child’s gender status, having the occasional slip or not knowing the correct pronoun, staff would have the opportunity to correct that. It’s not going to be published, there’s not going to be a list of students saying ‘these are your transgender students,’” said Ziegler.
The policy also allows students to participate in gender-segregated extracurricular activities that align with their chosen gender identity. That includes clubs and intramural sports.
The policy does not apply to interscholastic athletics, which are governed by the Virginia High School League. VHSL has very specific requirements regarding participation of transgender students in athletics. VHSL only allows transgender students to partake in athletics that align with their preferred gender if they have undergone sexual reassignment surgery and are undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
Misinformation and confusion about the policy have helped fueled a culture war among parents. Many parents who rallied with Fight for Schools believe that the policy is one example of a political agenda being pushed onto students, despite many of the same accommodations for transgender students existing for years in the district.
After the board meeting, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan released a statement condemning the crowd’s behavior.
“Tonight, the Loudoun County School Board meeting was interrupted by those who wish to use the public comment period to disrupt our work and disrespect each other. Dog-whistle politics will not delay our work. We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity,” Sheridan stated.
Denise Corbo (At Large) attended the meeting virtually and watched the chaos unravel.
“The actions I saw at the meeting were truly unfortunate. The majority of the audience negated decorum as outlined as policy….The board welcomes public comment and I encourage those who were unable to speak tonight to email their comments to the board,” Corbo said.
The board will vote on Policy 8040 in August.