By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board failed to adopt a controversial policy concerning transgender students when a Sept. 21 vote on the matter ended in a 4-4 tie, with one abstention.
Chair Paul Bull said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity is unlawful discrimination,” and the school district’s proposed policy on transgender students follows the model policy provided by the Virginia Department of Education.
But about a dozen parents and concerned citizens spoke against the policy on the treatment of transgender students, with several saying they support the transgender community, but implementing the policy as written would potentially compromise student safety.
Particularly, speakers took issue with the section of the policy that states a transgender student “shall be permitted to use the restroom, locker room, or changing facility consistent with the student’s asserted gender identity.”
Robbie Snyder, of New Church, said a transgender student should only use a bathroom or locker room designated for the sex the student was assigned at birth, except if the student has had sex reassignment surgery.
Paul Nolz, of Melfa, asked the school board to “protect the innocence and the safety of all children.” Students should choose bathrooms and locker rooms based on their sex as indicated by their chromosomes, XX or XY. He advised the school board to “follow the science.”
Connie Burford, of Bloxom, asked why a policy was needed to ensure equal treatment of transgender students and pointed out there is no policy to ensure equal treatment of special education students. However, there are federal laws that protect the rights of those students. She suggested the school board change the title of the policy to include all students.
Shelly Savage, of New Church, said both transgender and non-transgender students need to feel safe at school, and neither group should lose its rights for the benefit of the other. She thought allowing transgender boys and transgender girls to share bathrooms and locker rooms with other boys and girls could open a “Pandora’s box” in which other boys or girls could “gain access in a harmful manner” to the opposite sex.
Pastor David Sabatino, who is also an Accomack teacher, said he had spoken with many people who are “so uncomfortable, so hurt, so grieved” by the proposed policy. He asked the school board to “tap into your souls, tap into your hearts, and do what you know is right.”
Eileen Lee, of Onancock, said children are not mentally developed enough to know if they are gay or transgender, and they look to adults for guidance. Implementing the proposed policy would confuse children and instead of providing “balance, and security, and safety … it’s going to give them the opposite.”
Richie Turner, of Bloxom, said the solution is installing single-stall restrooms that any student can use regardless of biological sex or gender identity. He dubbed this “the port-a-potty method.” He said the school board should invest in the single-stall restrooms no matter the cost.
Alex Vargas, of Belle Haven, said he is a Christian who loves transgender people as “image-bearers of God deserving of dignity,” but the policy before the school board was “leftist propaganda” that only presumed neutrality.
Renee Spady, of Melfa, did not agree with transgender boys and transgender girls sharing bathrooms with other boys and girls. She said students should “grow and develop in a safe space,” and the school board’s decision was about “morals, and ethics, and choosing what’s right.”
The school board voted on adopting the policy on transgender students at approximately 8:30 p.m., following a closed session. Bull and school board members Jesse Speidel, Gary Reese, and Vice Chair Ronnie Holden voted “yes”; school board members Edward Taylor, Lisa Johnson, Camesha Handy, and Janet Turner voted “no”; school board member Malcolm White abstained.