This piece by Holly Prestidge was originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The night after Hanover County’s School Board voted down a bathroom policy last week for transgender students — one that would have allowed them to use restrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity — the ACLU of Virginia held a community forum to get a better understanding of what’s happening inside Hanover’s schools.
About 50 people attended the Wednesday night meeting last week, said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman, including transgender students, their parents and supporters. Heilman said she could not speak to whether specific legal actions are in the works against the school division, but said “we are watching this very closely [and] we are exploring all options at this point.”
Hanover’s School Board voted 4-3 last Tuesday night to shoot down the bathroom policy while unanimously adopting another that allows transgender students and their parents to change student records to reflect their gender identity.
The school division is in violation, she says, of the legislation passed last year by the Virginia General Assembly that required the Virginia Department of Education to create model policies for the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students. The law further required all of Virginia’s 132 school divisions to “adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies” developed by the VDOE.
The policies were supposed to be in place before the start of the school year, and Hanover is now more than two months behind.
“Hanover certainly has not done that,” Heilman said, though she acknowledged that the county isn’t alone in its stance. She said the agency is working to keep track of school divisions around the state that are in violation, but they’re more involved with Hanover because transgender students and their parents have reached out directly to the ACLU for guidance.
The number of Virginia school divisions in violation wasn’t immediately available.
In other school divisions, she said, “we haven’t heard directly from impacted students.”
Hanover School Board Chair Ola J. Hawkins, one of three board members who unsuccessfully supported the proposed bathroom/locker room policy last week during the School Board meeting, said by email that “on behalf of the School Board, I have nothing further to add to what the School Board discussed and decided upon at Tuesday night’s meeting” and that the board is “beginning to work with the school division administration on the implementation of the board’s expectations in this regard.”
She added that “several members of the School Board expressed a desire for additional time to craft a solution that works for all concerned individuals. A timeline was not established.”
Back on Sept. 10 as all of the state’s school divisions began the fall semester, the ACLU sent a letter to each of Virginia’s 132 school boards and superintendents reminding them about their legal duty to comply with state and federal laws, and reiterated its role in the Gavin Grimm case from 2015. Grimm, a transgender student, sued the Gloucester County School Board after it barred him from using the boys restroom.
A federal court ruled that the action taken by the school system was unconstitutional and violated his rights under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on one’s sex. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, a decision that allowed the lower court’s ruling to stand.
“After six years of litigation, the Gloucester County School Board recently agreed to pay the ACLU and ACLU-VA over $1.3 million dollars in legal fees and costs,” the letter said. “The district’s decision turned out to be costly and completely avoidable.”
The ACLU letter said, in part, that “... while a number of school districts have recently adopted policies in compliance with state law, others have refused to do so. This blatant disregard for state law and VDOE’s guidance is ill-informed and may subject school districts to unwanted litigation.”
Further, “school boards and their insurance providers are not the only ones who pay a hefty price for their decisions. Taxpayers across the Commonwealth are ultimately forced to bear the financial burden of school boards’ failure to respect students’ rights,” the letter said. But “the fiscal cost of non-compliance pales in comparison to the emotional and physical costs that transgender and nonbinary students experience.”
It also said “should your school district refuse to adopt such policies, the ACLU-VA will not hesitate to take action on behalf of students or parents who are harmed.”
You can read the original article here.