The Augusta County School Board voted down a required model policy on treatment of transgender students because board members feel the county’s existing policy is already in compliance with state law.
The Virginia Department of Education is saying, nuh-uh.
“With respect to content of local policies, VDOE’s model policies extend beyond just compliance with nondiscrimination laws to cover matters related to student records, student privacy, bullying and harassment, dress codes, and participation in school activities, among other required topics. Therefore, nondiscrimination policies alone may be insufficient to meet the full scope of this legal mandate,” James E. Lane, the superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education, wrote in a memo addressed to Virginia school superintendents dated July 30.
It was a day earlier that the Augusta County School Board voted unanimously to not adopt the model policy, which outlines ways to prevent discrimination against transgender students, including the use of their preferred pronouns and the ability to use bathrooms and facilities that match them.
“The requirement that local school boards adopt policies on the treatment of transgender students consistent with VDOE guidance by the 2021-2022 school year was codified by legislation action,” Lane wrote in his July 30 memo. “Like all other mandates on local school boards resulting from General Assembly action, local school boards must fulfill this directive in order to be in compliance with state law. Local school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance.”
Answering one question about enforcement, Lane noted that “no state funding is tied to the legislative mandate.”
“Noncompliance may still be costly for local school boards due to civil litigation or other associated liabilities,” Lane wrote, detailing that Section 22.1-87 of the Code of Virginia does provide that “(a)ny parent, custodian, or legal guardian of a pupil attending the public schools in a school division who is aggrieved by an action of the school board may, within thirty days after such action, petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to review the action of the school board.”
“Local school boards should consider these indirect costs in evaluating the consequences of inaction,” Lane wrote.
“Local school boards are advised to consult with their local school board attorney and liability insurance provider on the ramifications of not adopting policies, consistent with the VDOE model policies, on the treatment of transgender students before the coming school year,” Lane wrote.
The Augusta County School Board did consult with its attorney ahead of its vote, and board members were advised that the school system could risk losing its liability insurance if it didn’t move to adopt the model VDOE policy.
Maybe the hordes who came out to urge the board to act in defiance of state and federal law in a misguided morality play can pass the hat when the lawsuits start rolling in.
Story by Chris Graham