Loudoun School Board Tables LGBTQ Motion

Loudoun School Board Tables LGBTQ Motion

Insufficient opportunity for legal review cited as reason for delay.

The gallery was packed at the Dec. 13 Loudoun County School Board meeting. On the evening’s agenda were two motions: one to add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class in anti-discrimination policy for staff, and the other to add these protected classes to harassment policies for students.

The amendment was proposed by vice chairman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) on Nov. 29, but after some board members balked at adding more labels to policy, the discussion moved to removing all protected classes from policies in favor of a blanket statement against discrimination and harassment. Once the public comment section of the meeting was over and it came time to discuss the proposed amendments, the board quickly decided to table the matter, following a motion by chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and seconded by Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin).

Hornberger cited not having full access to legal counsel because counsel has been on leave.  Some Board members wanted more advice from counsel before voting on changes, Hornberger said.

“Both of these polices are heavily legal driven polices so it’s very important for us to make a good decision and an informed decision on it,” Hornberger said. “We are fulfilling the rule because we are reviewing the policy and technically we’ve already reviewed it and we’re looking at now either to adopt changes but there’s no rush to do it and I think we need to make sure we do it right.”

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said she had not had the opportunity to look at all the information available, but what she has looked at has let her know she doesn’t know enough. Without access to counsel and more time to go through material, she said she felt she and other board members may not be in the position to make the best possible decision.

Hornberger said he’d poll the board before bringing the matter back as an action item to make sure everyone is prepared.

“This board has a tremendously bad history of not taking care of anyone who don’t look like (them). And I hope at some point you get that through your heads that the rest of us are here, we’re not going anywhere and we expect you to protect us too.” Phillip Thompson (NAACP)

Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said she was fully prepared to vote on the motion that night but understands other board members’ need for more information from counsel. However, she said she felt counsel was clear when the board was told they would be in violation of federal law by removing protected classes from policy.

“So I’m not clear on what people are looking for but if somebody has something they’re questioning, there’s no reason to push it,” Maloney said. “But I do want to thank all the people coming out tonight, especially parents of children in the school system, children in the school system themselves. You were definitely heard, I see you and you matter.”

Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said he was frustrated that the board’s attorney has been missing twice when the board has discussed the issue. Although he supported the motion to table discussion, he felt the board could have voted on Sheridan’s motion to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

“There’s nothing in that amendment that would preclude us from voting since the Board of Supervisors has already approved similar language and there has been no legal repercussion to the Board of Supervisors. So I am frustrated by the fact that we have to delay this a third time,” he said.

Prior to discussing the amendments, the board heard from 26 community members in favor of adding LGBTQ protections and five in opposition.

The board heard testimony from social workers, therapists and parents attesting to the higher suicide rate amongst LGBTQ youth and research from Rice University that has shown that adding LGBTQ-specific protections reduces harassment and suicide attempts in this community.

Many of the speakers addressed the issue of labels. Without labels in the discrimination and harassment policies, specifically for LGBTQ individuals, it will not stop the harassment from happening, it will leave these individuals with no recourse, they said.

Jamie Gregg, the mother of a trans child, said she was told by her child’s school principal that there would be no problems as long as Gregg didn’t “rock the boat” or ask for rights for their child. Without a specific policy, administrators have no guidance on how to treat or help LGBTQ individuals and are left to their subjective decisions.

Holly Patterson, another mother of a trans child, made an emotional plea to add LGBTQ protections.

“My son is a survivor of your lack of policy. He survived a suicide attempt because your policy was not there for all students,” Patterson said. “We had to leave our home and move across the county to find an administration that would support him. We are the founders of Loudoun Teen Pride … We are helping more 70 families with LGBTQ students survive your lack of policy.”

“My son is a survivor of your lack of (LGBTQ) policy. He survived a suicide attempt because your policy was not there for all students,” Holly Patterson

Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson said he didn’t it like use of the term label.  He said it was illegal to remove all protected classes and unacceptable for the board members to consider doing so to get around their anti-LGBTQ bias. He also said it was important everyone be protected in the school system and that no one should be fired because of an identity they hold.

“This board has a tremendously bad history of not taking care of anyone who don’t look like (them). And I hope at some point you get that through your heads that the rest of us are here, we’re not going anywhere and we expect you to protect us too,” Thompson said.

The five people who spoke against adding LGBTQ protections included parents concerned about trans people using bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity and how that could compromise their daughters’ right to privacy. Others questioned the legality of going beyond Virginia and

federal law by add LGBTQ protections, as sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes at either of these levels.

Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) spoke to this point too, and said adding the protections would be unconstitutional and that the board has no legal authority to implement policies regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

The motion to table was unanimous. No specific meeting date was set for when the board will consider the matter again, but Hornberger said he expected it would be in January.