The first priority of the new School Board: sneer at human rights

Crossposted at Equality Loudoun

The very first action taken by the newly elected Loudoun County School Board was this:

Regarding the Virginia Human Rights Act:

“I move to amend the Board’s previously adopted Legislative Program by removing the recommendation to expand the protected classifications contained in the Virginia Human Rights Act, Code of Virginia §2.2-3900 and §2.2-3901, to include gender orientation and gender identity and to further amend the Code of Virginia §22.1-78 to allow local school boards to similarly expand the protected classifications contained in local school board policies and regulations and that Staff be directed to make such other changes to the Legislative Program as to conform to the Program language of this motion.”

[from page 5 of the adopted Legislative Program]

Motion: Mr. Kuesters
Second: Mr. Fox

Vote: 6-3-0 (Mr. Reed, Mrs. Bergel, and Mrs. Sheridan opposed)

The only reason for initiating such an action is ideological, and the idea in play is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender and gender variant youth are not deserving of having their human rights protected. The Wisconsin School District that was the subject of the film Bullied found out the hard and expensive way that this is not a good position for school boards to take. I hate to being up money when this is a fundamental moral issue, but unfortunately that’s the only language some people seem to understand.

Keep in mind that this is not a sin of omission, but of commission; the six board members voting in favor did not just fail to do something they should do – make sure that ALL students and employees in the Loudoun County Public School system are protected from discrimination – they went out of their way to actively do the opposite. Keep in mind also that the item they went out of their way to delete was not associated with any cost, and has nothing to do with anything conceivably related to “reform.” The item was nothing but a recommendation to the General Assembly with no actual force of policy – in stark contrast to the action taken just days ago by Virginia’s Board of Juvenile Justice. This agency is purportedly without the authority to set its own policies with regard to nondiscrimination, but chose to do so anyway – because its first priority is the health and safety of the children in its care.

When asked for the reasoning behind his motion, new board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said “The board members supporting this motion are essentially saying that we don’t think this is a School Board issue.” Really? He doesn’t think that discrimination against students and employees in the school system is a school board issue? Let’s leave employment discrimination out of it for a moment and just consider the kids. He doesn’t think that the absence of clear policies that prohibit the bullying of kids in school is a school board issue? The problem may well be ignorance. Or it may be something else. Here is the problem framed by educators who see it every day:

Some educators are wary of raising issues relating to sexual orientation or gender identity because the subject is seen as politically or religiously charged. While they would promptly take action in the case of bullying based on race, religion or ethnicity, they may hesitate when bullying is based on sexual orientation or the perception that a student is gay.
- From the Bullied discussion guide

“They may hesitate.” Because, incredibly, there are people who claim for themselves a right to abuse children who are, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender variant. As much as some might want to think that zero tolerance for bullying (or employment discrimination, for that matter) “for any reason” is a sufficient remedy, the truth is that there will always be bullies who falsely believe that their own reasons for the behavior are special and exempt. The fact that they are not exempt has to be spelled out.

Whatever the six new board members believed they were doing, their active removal of this recommendation objectively sends the message to those listening for such dog whistle signals that they now have implicit permission to escalate actions motivated by anti-gay animus; the new school board won’t care.

I did not have any pre-conceived notions about this new board. The new members campaigned on, and have otherwise been praised for early indications of, “reform.” If they fail to stick to that agenda and instead start making forays into morally indefensible “culture wars,” it will indicate that they made promises to special interest groups in secret. That is not a good way to start their term.

3 thoughts on “The first priority of the new School Board: sneer at human rights

  1. Elder Berry

    Would he think discrimination against Christians is a School Board issue?

    Seems to me that they could well have chosen other important matters to begin with, in termn of the message they wanted to send.

  2. Allison

    What is the official policy, if any, regarding discrimination of students based on sexual identity? I know the county govt specifically forbids any kind of discrimination of its employees based on sexual identity, but it seems as though a student can still be treated as the incorrect gender based on their need or treated as a separate category all together.
    Therefore a teacher will be treated as the correct gender (and right wing religious folks and stuck up little prudes will freak out), but a student in the same school will not.

  3. Epluribusunum Post author

    Allison: There is no official policy, and that has caused numerous problems in the past. Individual principals have great latitude to set and implement policy within their own schools, with both positive and negative results. We’ve learned of students being told that they aren’t allowed to have a Gay-Straight Alliance, for example, which is a violation of federal law and could have resulted in legal action against LCPS. In another case, the principal of Stone Bridge HS courageously stood his ground and defended his students when they were attacked over the content of a school play by an anti-gay horde led by Dick Black and Eugene Delgaudio.

    In many ways things have improved immensely in Loudoun. The aforementioned “leaders” were unable to repeat their performance over an attempted book ban a few years later due to significant shifts in public opinion. However, there are still incidents and it’s difficult to track what’s going on without hearing from people within the individual schools. Everybody has to be a watchdog in this situation. We are especially concerned about kids who are being treated by schools as the wrong gender, because of the deep and abiding ignorance about these kids. If you’re aware of a situation in which advocacy for a student could be helpful, please report it to Equality Loudoun and also put the student in touch with Loudoun Out Loud if they are not already. Both groups will treat the situation with complete confidentiality.

    Loudoun Out Loud is the organizer of PFLAG sponsored support groups. There’s one for youth and one for parents/adult allies. They meet once a month and you can contact them here.

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