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Chesterfield Schools Approve Policy Protecting Transgender Students

Trans rights photo
A new policy protecting transgender students in Chesterfield County was passed at this week’s school board meeting. By law, Virginia school districts must adopt a policy regarding harassment-free treatment of transgender students ahead of the upcoming school year. This photo from a school event celebrating Pride month. (Photo: Crixell Mathews/VPM News)

When schools start later this month, all students in Chesterfield will be able to be addressed by their preferred name and access restrooms based on their gender identity.

That’s because of a new policy the district passed around the treatment of transgender students at this week’s school board meeting — where board members also voted to requires students and staff to wear masks in buildings.

By law, Virginia school districts must adopt a policy regarding harassment-free treatment of transgender students ahead of the upcoming school year. But the Chesterfield vote didn’t happen smoothly, with Vice Chair Ann Coker abstaining.

“The proposed policy does not allow for enough parental involvement and does not allow our employees [any] flexibility from a moral obligation standpoint,” Coker said.

Coker’s abstention echoes concerns raised by the firing and later rehiringof a Loudoun County teacher who refused to address transgender students by their preferred names. That county’s school board passed their policyin a seven to two vote Wednesday. 

No other board members made comments prior to the vote but earlier this week, member Dot Heffron said at a Facebook Live event that the language in the policy is straight forward.

“It provides equal protection to all of our students,” she said before adding, “It’s interesting that we have to call this out. Because when we talk about equity, and we talk about equitable access, one would assume that that would apply to all students. But I feel reassured that it’s in black and white now and that this is policy and that protection is there.”

Other concerns raised by Coker included if privacy strategies, such as partitions, would be put in place in bathrooms and locker rooms. She posed the question to the district’s operations manager Josh Davis.

Davis said that his team visited all the schools over the summer to get a count of single-user restrooms.

“The good news is in the vast majority of our buildings, we’re seeing fairly substantial numbers of those facilities,” Davis said.

Davis added that for multi-user restrooms, they  need to look at the height of stall walls in relation to fire sprinklers. Each restroom still needs adequate lighting and ventilation if partitions are added or raised. He also said his team has looked at pilot schools that have made similar structural changes and that they’d have to find a way to pay for any changes.

Regarding bathrooms, the now approved policy states:

“Access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students. Upon request, single-user, gender-inclusive facilities or other reasonable alternatives shall be made available to any student who seeks privacy. Any options offered shall be non stigmatizing and shall not result in lost instructional time.”

During the almost two-hour public comment period prior to the vote, roughly 30 people spoke to the board for their allotted three minutes. Most of the comments swirled around the mask debate, but some speakers brought up the transgender policy.

Ashley Apple is the mother of two Chesterfield students and a family practitioner who works in pediatric urgent care. She asked the school board to pass the policy, saying when transgender students get support from places such as schools, their mental health and academic achievements improve.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that these supportive measures pose any risk to the health or well-being of any students, and these actions can be quite literally life saving for transgender students,” Apple said.

Supportive measures she said schools can take include “being respectful, using students' preferred names and pronouns, and allowing them to access facilities and play team sports that align with their gender identity.” 

Regarding sports, the policy states:

“For any school program, event, or activity, including extra-curricular activities that are segregated by gender, if requested by a student and parent, the school division shall allow students to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Athletic participation regulated by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) or another organization such as the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association (VASRA), as well as middle school athletics, shall be in compliance with policies and rules outlined by those organizations.”

Despite being a state mandate, not all districts are complying.

“They are unfortunately adopting policies that are an attempt, I think, to probably be in compliance, but leave a lot of room open for some confusion,” said Vee Lamneck, Executive Director of Equality Virginia. “There are also a handful of school districts that are simply refusing.”

Lemneck said many school boards are instead choosing to either update their already in-place non-discrimination policy or say their existing non-discrimination policy covers transgender students. They added that many are not using language supplied by the Virginia Department of Education but instead using guidelines laid out by the Virginia School Board Association. 

Here’s what some nearby school districts have done*, according to Equality Virginia.

  • Richmond City - they have a stand-alone policy that aligns with the VDOE policy that is scheduled for second reading at the Aug. 16th school board meeting
  • Petersburg - approved VSBA policy updates
  • Prince George County - concluded that they already have policies in place that align
  • Colonial Heights - has elected not to change its policies and is committed to working on individual basis with students
  • Hopewell - no evidence that they've considered any policy changes
  • Chesterfield - has a standalone policy that aligns (policy 1015)
  • Goochland - considered the VSBA policy updates and adopted at least some of them according to minutes
  • Hanover- no evidence of consideration of any substantial policy
  • Henrico- already has a general nondiscrimination policy; evidence on BoardDocs that several individual policy updates have been considered, but it is not yet evident if they were adopted; no stand-alone policy that I can tell

Last month, State Superintendent James Lane sent a letter to all school districts saying boards that don’t adopt policies “assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance.”

If any school districts are seeing legal action, it has yet to be seen. School begins in Chesterfield County on August 23. 

*District policies may change after publication of this article.


Ian M. Stewart is a reporter, fill-in anchor for VPM News and he produces the World Music Show for VPM Music. He covers all sorts for stories in the region, from local government to sports to transportation issues.