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PECPS to have transgender students use private restrooms

Transgender students in Prince Edward County Public Schools will be required to use private restrooms until the school board approves a policy on the issue, but that stance does not appear to be in line with guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education.

Barbara Johnson

School Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson made the policy announcement during the Wednesday, July 14, Prince Edward County School Board meeting. Johnson said the decision would stand until the School Board has a chance to discuss the issue at its Wednesday, Aug. 4, meeting. With school beginning for Prince Edward County students Monday, Aug. 2, the Prince Edward County School Board has yet to take any action on transgender policy issues.

School systems across the state have been asked to align their policies on the treatment of transgender students with the state Department of Education policies before the beginning of the new school year. A state law approved in early 2020 asked the Virginia Department of Education to provide model policies to school boards that comply with nondiscrimination laws, maintain a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment and that prevent bullying and harassment.

Johnson told the board she received a call from a concerned parent who asked how the schools were going to handle the transgender bathroom issue since no policy had been put in place.

“What I have assured that parent and have followed through with is that until we have a policy, until we have agreed on a policy as a board, any student who identifies as transgender…will be allowed to use a private restroom. Whether that is a private restroom that perhaps adults use, the nurse’s station, etc,” Johnson said. “Until this topic has had the opportunity to be fully vetted and you have had the opportunity to discuss it, that is the stance.”

Board member Dr. Timothy Corbin asked Johnson if transgender students would have the option to use the restroom of the gender they identify with. Johnson said they would not.

“At this point, I am asking that they just have the option to go to a private restroom,” she said. “That’s for several reasons. That’s because people have to be comfortable whether you are transgender or not, or part of the LGBTQ-plus community or not, everybody has to be comfortable, and we are going to try really hard to come up with a solution that works.”

Johnson said transgender students would be given a bathroom pass like any other pass that may be a different color.

“That is what I said to the parent,” Johnson said of the private bathroom policy. “I gave the parent my word, and I absolutely stand by that because I think that is in the best interest of all of our students’ interest and safety of all of our students.”

But Johnson’s decision does not appear to be consistent with the state’s model policies on transgender students from the Virginia Department of Education.

“All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe and adequate so that they can comfortably and fully engage in their school programs and activities. Schools frequently maintain separate restrooms, locker rooms or other facilities for males and females. Students should be allowed to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity,” the policy reads.

The policy goes on to state that schools providing private restrooms, changing areas, etc., should provide those areas on an equal basis to all students, not just transgender students, without any specific codes or keys.

“It can be emotionally harmful for a transgender student to be questioned regarding the use of restrooms and facilities,” the policy reads. “School staff should not confront students about their gender identity upon entry into the restroom.”

When asked about the discrepancies between Prince Edward County Public Schools’ approach and the state policy Friday, July 16, Johnson said it is the school system’s intent to follow state guidelines.

“We plan to abide by Virginia state code,” Johnson said in an email. “Our School Board will discuss the policies next month to ensure that they align with VA Code 22.1 as well as the Virginia Department of Education model policies which allows for options.”

A link to the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools” can be found here – https://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/gender-diversity/

The recent case of a Virginia transgender student, Gavin Grimm, who sued the Gloucester County school system seeking access to public restroom facilities in schools, specifically referred to the school’s solution of utilizing private restrooms for transgender students as discriminatory. Grimm referred to being forced to use private restrooms after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case solidified a lower court which ruled in favor of Grimm.

“Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education,” Grimm said in a statement following the June decision. “Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”

Prince Edward County School Board member Doug Farley said he agreed with Johnson’s stance but asked what timeline the board had to approve a policy and what would happen if the school system remained in noncompliance with the state guidelines.

“There could be repercussions if there is an incident of any sort,” Johnson said. “We would be cited for not having updated policies when we should have.”