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Hanover school board reviews books, restroom policies

School Board Chairman May holds a gavel
Shaban Athuman
VPM News File
School Board Chairman Bob May receives his gavel in July after being elected chairperson during a Hanover County School Board meeting in Ashland.

Changes could be voted on at a November meeting.

The Hanover County School Board discussed its school library books and student restrooms policies during a meeting Tuesday.

The board made appointments to its Library Materials Committee and reviewed potential changes to an existing student restroom policy in accordance with the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies released earlier this year.

The recently created Library Materials Committee reviews reading material in libraries across the school system. It was established alongside the June adoption of the board policy that makes removing books from school libraries easier.

The committee — composed of eight people, one from each of Hanover’s magisterial districts and the schools’ assistant superintendent — will determine whether any challenged material should be removed from or remain in circulation.

It provides written recommendations to the board, but the school board has sole discretion over whether a challenged book remains in circulation at schools.

“This is in accordance with our policy that we worked on in June and passed in August,” Bob May, the school board’s chairperson, said at the Tuesday meeting. “All seven of us have sought input from the community for recommendations [to] this committee.”

Although the motion to appoint library committee members was passed unanimously, parents like Michael Berdan of the Beaverdam District continue to voice issues with the board’s books policy.

Berdan read a note from an anonymous Hanover teacher during the meeting’s public comment period. It detailed the newfound distrust the board’s position on books has sown among parents and educators. He was one of a handful of speakers who voiced concerns from instructors fearful of speaking themselves.

“It is the policy that is at the heart of this distrust,” Berdan said. “The policy caused controversy, which did not previously exist. It took conversations usually handled between parents, teachers and administrators, and twisted what had been civil discourse to the current political spectacle.”

The board also reviewed several potential changes to the division's restroom policy that mirror language found in the Virginia Department of Education’s model policy. As VPM News previously reported, the state’s policies is meant to “protect and encourage respect for all students,” and address the treatment of transgender students across Virginia. Several organizations advocating for the civil rights and safety of trans students have opposed their implementation.

Coincidentally, Hanover’s existing provision is already compliant with the state’s, according to school board attorney Lisa Seward.

“I found that a large portion of the content that is included within the proposed model policies is already in your policy manual, so you wouldn’t need to go back and make those revisions,” Seward told the board Tuesday. “There are [a] few things that are not in your policy manual, so I have made some draft revisions to three different policies.”

The proposed revisions were tied to VDOE’s model policies, including language instructing administrators to refer to students by the name, pronoun and gender consistent with the student’s gender identity in their official record.

Currently, the board’s policy allows student access to private restrooms, regardless of gender identity, and requires transgender students to provide written requests for access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities that align with their gender identity.

May said the decision to evaluate existing policies is a standard practice for the board when state agencies update guidance.

“When the Legislature and the governor signs a bill into the law, we review the law and then whomever the appropriate staff is, make recommendations of policy changes that we might have to make,” he said.

The model policies were presented by VDOE and are not a piece of legislation signed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Each school division must determine if the policies will be implemented there. Currently, there’s not a mechanism to enforce implementation, though Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said boards are “required” to adopt the measures.

The changes, as well as potential additional amendments, to the existing policies affecting trans students are expected to be heard during the board's Nov. 14 meeting, when they’ll be considered for adoption.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.