The following joint open letter was signed by ACLU of Virginia, Equality Virginia, Hanover County NAACP, He She Ze and We, and Side by Side Virginia.
To members of the Hanover County School Board and Board of Supervisors:
The ACLU of Virginia, Equality Virginia, He She Ze and We, the Hanover County NAACP, and Side by Side Virginia are in solidarity with the students who will be harmed by the School Board’s vote to engage Alliance Defending Freedom to review your “Equal Educational Opportunities” (EEO) policy.
The Board demonstrated a total disregard for ALL students in Hanover County, especially transgender and Black and Brown students, when they selected Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to review the EEO policy - a policy that includes, among other things, provisions regarding the treatment of transgender students and the effort to make Hanover County Schools more inclusive and equitable. Instead of adopting policies to protect all students from discrimination, the Board decided to accept the services of a group that has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2016. The absurdity of this action is beyond belief.
Why is ADF a poor choice to review a school district’s equity policy? ADF has threatened legal action against school districts who comply with the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies regarding the treatment of transgender students. ADF opposes school-based anti-racism policies and has filed a lawsuit targeting Albemarle County Schools’ plan to eliminate racism and close long-standing achievement gaps among student groups. ADF also represents a Virginia teacher who lost his job because he refused to use a transgender student’s correct pronouns. The Board’s move potentially imposes an anti-LGBTQ+ and extremist agenda on all students and parents in Hanover County; an agenda that could put many transgender, Black and Brown, and marginalized students at risk while undermining Hanover County’s existing effort to create inclusive school environments where all students can thrive. One only has to glance at ADF’s website to know that they are incapable of providing a fair, objective, and accurate legal assessment of any educational policy.
This engagement clearly puts transgender students, an already vulnerable population, at the center of ADF’s political agenda and its only outcome will be further marginalization. Transgender and non-binary people, including young people, face higher rates of harassment and physical assault, with 43% of LGBTQ+ youth reporting they have been bullied in school. Transgender students don’t create unsafe environments, but schools are often unsafe environments for them. When school boards prioritize equity policy, all students, including transgender students, thrive.
ADF talks a big game about parental rights. But their stances make it clear that they are only concerned with the parental rights of some parents - those who adopt and accept their ideologies. ADF clearly believes that there is only one way to define family, one way to define the practice of religion, one way to define gender, and one way to define First Amendment rights – their way. The organization’s disturbing and erroneous positions should clearly disqualify ADF from providing legal advice to the Board, a taxpayer-funded public agency, on a matter as sensitive as providing safe, discrimination-free schools for all students, including transgender students. The fact that some Hanover County School Board members think it’s acceptable for this organization to decide what equity and inclusion looks like in our public schools shows how ill-equipped they are to serve our schools and children.
Based on this and past actions, our organizations have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all communications between the Hanover County School Board and ADF. In addition, we demand that the Board of Supervisors support a resolution to demonstrate their commitment to serve all students in Hanover and appoint school board members who will uphold that value by fostering an inclusive school environment where transgender and Black and Brown students are seen and treated with respect. Board members who fail to comply with the values as noted in the resolution should not be allowed to serve on the board and make policy decisions that impact all Hanover students.
The outcome of this engagement is a foregone conclusion -- the continued discrimination of transgender, Black and Brown, and other marginalized students.
Advocating for an inclusive school environment for ALL students:
ACLU of Virginia
He She Ze and We
Hanover County NAACP
Side by Side Virginia