The Loudoun County School Board delayed its vote on a policy on the treatment of transgender students, following more than four hours of emotional public comments. One speaker who said she was a teacher quit her job on the spot over the proposed policy.
The parking lot Tuesday resembled the crowd for a campaign rally. To get inside, more than 150 people waited for their number to be called into a megaphone by a school employee.
Once a speaker’s number was called, they could walk through security and wait in a hallway until they were allowed to weigh in at a school board meeting that hardly resembled one.
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During public comment, substitute teacher Emily Hart said the proposed policy would violate her religious rights.
“[It] would force teachers to act against their sincerely held religious beliefs," she said.
For the same reason, Laura Morris, a woman who said she's been a full-time teacher in Loudoun County for five years, quit her job during her speaking time.
"School board, I quit. I quit your policies, I quit your trainings and I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly politicized agendas on our most vulnerable constituents — the children,” she said. "I will find employment elsewhere."
The Loudoun County School Board recessed its meeting just before 8:30 p.m.
"Chair Brenda L. Sheridan asked the School Board to consider a motion to recess after Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler said it would take 90 minutes to reset the School Board Meeting Room to allow the public to view the remainder of the meeting," the school district said.
The vote is now expected to occur Wednesday.
Dramatically different meeting procedures were announced on Aug. 3, “in direct response to the increase in threats and the unruly and unsafe behavior at the June 22 board meeting,” the school board said in a statement.
At that meeting in June, parents concerned about the transgender student policy and how schools teach about race held up signs and sang the national anthem, attracting attention across the country. One man was arrested, another man was ticketed for trespassing and a third person was hurt. School board members received death threats, as they did earlier this year.
“Although the School Board is committed to public input, there remains concern about the safety of all participants in the public-input process. The safety and security of all staff, students and visitors remains our highest priority,” the school board said.
Members of the public submitted comments in person, virtually or in writing. Speakers had to register from 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 6 to noon Aug. 10. Walk-up registrations for public comment were accepted until five minutes before the start of the meeting.
Public speakers were allowed inside in small groups of 10, in order of speaking, and then had no more than two minutes. Prohibited items included purses, bags, backpacks, weapons, “supports for signs or flags” and megaphones. Go here for full details.
When asked about security before Tuesday's meeting, a spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said, “We have allocated the appropriate resources based on the nature of the public meeting and intelligence we have developed to date.”
The school board unanimously voted to shut down the public comment portion of the June 22 session after repeatedly issuing warnings about decorum and disruptions.
“The meeting has degenerated” a school district spokesperson said as the board ordered people to leave.
Parents chanted “Shame on you” and raised their middle fingers.
School Board Chair Brenda Sheridan said that night that the the board would continue to work to make schools fair.
“We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity,” she said.
Sheridan called for an end to “politically motivated antics” and said “loud voices aiming to make our schools a political battleground will not silence the work for our students.”
Proposed Policy 8040 on the rights of transgender and gender-expansive students would affect staff use of transgender students’ names and pronouns; transgender students’ access to sports, restrooms and locker rooms; and training for school mental health professionals.
The policy became national news after elementary school gym teacher Tanner Cross testified in May that he would not follow the policy because he believed it would harm children and violate his religious beliefs.
The school district placed Cross on paid administrative leave. A District Court judge ruled that Cross must be reinstated, citing his rights to speech and religious liberty. The school board is appealing the ruling.
Here Are the Main Points of the Proposed Policy on the Treatment of Transgender Students
- Staff should allow transgender and gender-expansive students to “use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their consistently asserted gender identity.” Staff should use students’ names and pronouns. “Staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy.”
- Staff should allow transgender and gender-expansive students to participate in “interscholastic, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities … in a manner consistent with the student’s gender identity.”
- Students should be allowed to use the restrooms and locker rooms that “correspond to their consistently asserted gender identity.” Staff should “take steps to designate gender-inclusive or single-user restrooms commensurate with the size of the school.”
- “All school mental health professionals shall complete training on topics relating to LGBTQ+ students, including procedures for preventing and responding to bullying, harassment and discrimination based on gender identity/expression.”
- “The Superintendent is authorized to develop implementing regulations and school procedures to ensure consistency in practices.”
School systems across Virginia are adopting similar regulations; a new state law gives counties little leeway to consider alternatives.
Go here to see the full text of proposed Policy 8040.
Go here to see the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.”
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.