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Augusta County School Board approves updated policy regarding LGBTQ students

Rebecca Barnabi
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The Augusta County School Board unanimously approved Thursday night an addition to the school system’s policy manual regarding LGBTQ students.

Equal Educational Opportunities/Non-Discrimination Compliance states that the word “sex” refers to biological sex, and “transgender student” refers to a public school student whose parent has stated in writing that the student’s gender differs from the student’s sex. 

Augusta County Schools Deputy Superintendent Dr. Doug Shifflett said that policy addition 7.505, which is viewable on the school system’s website, contains wording consistent with model policies presented by the Virginia Department of Education.

The addition states that pronouns will correspond to a student’s sex in school record, but the school system will use other pronouns if a student presents in writing other pronouns to be used.

“ACPS personnel or other students will not be compelled to address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights,” the addition states. 

School programs and activities separated by sex shall determine student participation based on sex, not on gender or gender identity.

“Where state or federal law requires schools to permit transgender students to share otherwise sex-segregated facilities (such as bathrooms or locker rooms) with students of the opposite sex, parents should be given the right to opt their child out of using such facilities, and the child should be given access to alternative facilities that promote the child’s privacy and safety.”

Restroom use will be according to sex, but single-user restrooms will be accessible to all students.

Augusta County School Board member David Shiflett said Augusta County’s policies are not really different from the policies presented by the Virginia Department of Education.

“It is everything that is in a policy from Richmond is included in our proposed policy,” Shiflett said.

However, Shiflett said, the school system should adopt policies as Augusta County, because politics change. In fact, the current members of Augusta County School Board were serving on the board when Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed state policies, but the school system stuck by its policies. Basically, the addition to the school system’s policy manual is what existed before.

“I think it’s important it remains local control, because, sooner or later down the road, there’s going to be another administration in Richmond, and they may send us another model policy,” Shiflett said.

Shiflett said the school system’s policies should reflect Augusta County values and what residents in Augusta County stand for.

“And, if you have read what our proposed policy is, I think it does that. I think it reflects the values of Augusta County. I think it reflects the values of our school board,” Shiflett said before making a motion for the board to approve the addition.

Augusta County School Board Chair Nick Collins said the policy addition came from five months of work before Thursday’s vote.

Shifflett said the addition to the policy manual provides safety measures for students.

Joseph Williams told the board Thursday night that the model policies published on July 18, 2023 must be adopted.

“You as a board have disrespected the respect of all students and parents in Augusta County Schools by not adopting these policies,” Williams said.

He said that sex equals biological sex, the sex a child is assigned at birth. Children are not adults until they turn 18 years old, so children are unable to determine their sex.

“You have failed to do as called upon by the state of Virginia,” Williams said, referring to Youngkin’s LGBTQ policies for Virginia’s public schools. “You’re a school board in Virginia. Act as one.”

Williams said he does not understand why middle school students in public schools have to ask permission to use restrooms, yet some adults think middle school students have the maturity capable of knowing if they are a different sex than assigned at birth.

The model policies propose a “safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination or harassment for all students,” according to Williams.

Cynthia Weekly said that the policies have her support.

“The whole issue is safety,” she said.

Across the United States, Weekly said students are under attack, and some policies are not about raising students, but about destroying them.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.