An elementary school PE teacher helped put Loudoun County in the national spotlight when he took to the podium at the May 25 School Board meeting to say he would not comply with proposed new policy intended to comply with a new state-wide mandate that schools provide protections to transgender students.
In ensuing months, Loudoun trended on Twitter, was featured in Tucker Carlson monologues, and even made headlines in widely circulated tabloids in the UK.
Virginia General Assembly passed the new law in 2020, and the Department of Education issued a model policy for divisions. The model affords trans students basic rights inherent to their cis-gender schoolmates, to be addressed by their chosen pronouns, and to use the restroom facilities that correspond with their gender identities.
While the state would not withhold funding from school divisions that refuse to implement such protections, not doing so might prove costly. State Superintendent James Lane sent a letter to school districts over the summer, stating that school divisions would be held liable if students or parents are “aggrieved by an action” that would have been a violation of such a policy.
A sizeable portion of the provisions in Loudoun’s corresponding Policy 8040 were either already established as common practice in the school division, or were implemented as part of the anti-discrimination policy when it was revised in 2019. But Loudoun’s version of the policy also goes beyond the state-mandated minimum—unlike many other localities, in Loudoun, parents do not need to consent or be notified of their student’s gender identity change.
That component of the policy perhaps sparked the most outrage among critics. Parents who support Fight for Schools, the group seeking the ouster of School Board members, contend that the board is attempting to “co-parent” their children.
“Even parents that may support some elements of the policy have expressed shock and surprise that they would not be told if their child was identifying as a different gender in school,” Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior said. “What makes it even worse is that many on the School Board said Policy 8040 was required by the VDOE, yet LCPS went above and beyond to remove parents from the decision-making process.”
To some, Loudoun’s Policy 8040 is a Trojan Horse steamrolling parents, jam-packed with political and social woke-ism But to others, it is a safety net to provide basic human rights for some of the population’s most vulnerable students.
Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D, VA-87), who sits on the House Education Committee, said transgender students are some of the most vulnerable children.
“We’ve been hearing all over the state how there were LGBTQ kids who’ve been bullied and teachers, in many cases, didn’t know how to handle situations of bullying of this population and nor did they have any experience or sensitivity of their backgrounds and needs.”
Different Districts, Different Rules
Elizabeth Ewing, the director of Legal and Policy Services for the Virginia School Board Association, said that that the law required two things: the drafting of a model policy by the Virginia Department of Education, and the adoption of policies that satisfy the requirements from the VDOE’s model.
“It is probably more common that the General Assembly just require school boards to adopt something directly, as opposed to having the Department of Ed to create a sample policy first,” Ewing said.
Once a model policy is created, the VDOE and the Virginia School Board Association do not track how individual school divisions handle the new mandate. And, in this case, Ewing said, the law did not include any enforcement mechanisms. Subramanyam said that legislators crafted the law to maximize school divisions’ abilities to individualize policies based on their needs.
Most school divisions across the Commonwealth did not fall into line with the VDOE’s model. Some, such as Henrico County, revised existing policies to satisfy portions of the state requirement. Unlike in Loudoun, Henrico County transgender students need a parent or guardian’s consent prior to participating in a gender-specific activity. And the school board in Henrico did not codify transgender students’ rights to access the bathroom facilities of their gender identity, although officials said its practice already is to accommodate the restroom facility needs of specific students.
In nearby Prince William County—where the school division is comparable in size to Loudoun’s—the School Board expanded its existing student discrimination policy to include protections for transgender students. There, students may be addressed by their chosen pronouns and may access their chosen restrooms, but a parent or guardian must consent to the change.
Virginia Beach Public Schools, also comparable in size to LCPS, passed a policy after a tumultuous public debate and discord among board members pushed the vote into September—past the VDOE’s deadline for the policy. The Virginia Beach School Board revised its existing discrimination policy. It allows transgender students to access the restroom consistent with their gender identity and to be addressed by their chosen pronouns, but parental consent is required. If a parent does not agree to the change, administrators are tasked with working with the student and parents on a resolution.
Other divisions bucked the requirement entirely. The division in Russell County in southwest Virginia, with a population of less than 30,000 and just 3,700 students, voted unanimously against the state’s model policy. It has no language in its guidelines or regulations to specifically protect transgender students.
As the fate of Policy 8040 hangs in the balance, local groups are rallying to support transgender youth in Loudoun. A study released last week by the nationwide nonprofit, The Trevor Project, found that 48% of intersex youth seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.
One Loudoun mother, whose son is transgender, said that vitriolic comments during School Board meetings that invalidate trans kids are detrimental.
The group Loudoun4All formed in response to the culture war in Loudoun, and supports equity and equality for LGBTQ+ students. Equality Loudoun, a nonprofit formed in 2003, works to ensure that marginalized groups are represented fairly in institutions.
Meanwhile, the PE teacher, Tanner Cross, represented by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, after being placed on leave was granted an emergency injunction to return to his teaching position. He was ultimately reinstated, and the school district paid $20,000 in damages. ADF now represents three teachers seeking an injunction from enforcing the policy, arguing that it violates their right to free speech. Judge James E. Plowman’s ruling on the policy is expected any day.