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Hanover school board holds special meeting to discuss transgender policies

Hanover County residents addresses school board during packed special school board meeting on...
Hanover County residents addresses school board during packed special school board meeting on the school system's transgender policy.(NBC12)
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 6:26 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 5, 2021 at 5:17 AM EDT
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HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - The Hanover School Board held a special meeting Thursday on the district’s proposed revisions to its transgender policy.

The special meeting was solely dedicated to public comment on the policy since the issue has become such a hot-button issue, that the board wanted to give more people an opportunity to provide input, which typically, the board only sets aside an hour for.

Some board members said that wanted to hear more community input before making such an important decision.

“We’re clearly concerned about these state-mandated policies which are being handed down to school boards all over the Commonwealth of Virginia which really jeopardizes the bodily privacy and safety of all students,” Family Foundation Government Executive Director, Dr. Todd Gathje said. “Let’s propose and consider policies that protect every student.”

But parents of transgender teens like Ann say it will be impossible for the county to protect all students if inclusive transgender policies aren’t adopted.

“It’s been really tough, I’m afraid to send my daughter to school, Ann said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to my child because of who she is, I just want to protect my kid.”

Ann came to the meeting as a part of a group of like-minded parents urging the school board to adopt a transgender policy for the school system.

“How would you feel about your child not being accepted by their peers or their teachers?” another parent of a transgender student asked during public comment. “I would hope and expect that you would take issue with this; Trans and the non-binary students need to be accepted as well.”

The meeting comes ahead of next the regularly scheduled Nov. 9 school board meeting, which will also cover the same topic.

The meeting was so packed that the board room reached capacity shortly after the doors opened at 6 p.m. Dozens of people who signed up for public comment were forced to wait outside in long lines for their opportunity to speak. There were also concerns that some people who were signed up would be postponed to the following meeting next Tuesday.

Public comment was made up of current and former Hanover County educators, parents, and transgender students, each making passionate pleas to sway the board into making a decision on the policy.

During the meeting, some parents said they removed their kids from schools in Hanover because they believed their children were being forced to adhere to transgender policies they didn’t agree with.

“I’m not here to push my opinions my beliefs on you, I want to stand up for the families who are in public schools who don’t have the option to take their children out and put them in private schools,” Hunter Young said. “I don’t believe that one child’s rights or beliefs are more important than the other however I do beliefs are more important than the other. I do believe my daughter shouldn’t be coached into doing something that does not align with my family’s beliefs.”

“It is your responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in your schools and you have been failing to live up to that responsibility by ignoring the needs of our trans students,” educator Delaine Utterback said. “To any trans student listening, know that you are loved and you are valued.”

Though much of the meeting was calm, there were moments where tempers flared and outbursts briefly halted the schedule.

“I should not have to worry about my daughter being assaulted with her face smashed against the wall by a trans or a male dressing and a skirt,” a public commenter said.

“These students are children. They are not part of an agenda, they are simply trying to exist and use the bathroom like everyone else,” another person said during public comment.

All Virginia schools are required by law to create more inclusive policies that help protect transgender students against discrimination. Those policies were supposed to be in place before the start of this school year, but Hanover County has yet to do so.

“These policies have the potential to harm my children and my role as a parent in my child’s life,” said a mother. “I recognize all students including transgender students have the right to feel comfortable and safe, but not at the expense of the safety of more than 98% of the student body.”

The topic was brought up at the last meeting that took place in October.

The policies being looked at include Policy 6-1.10 Teaching about Sensitive or Controversial Topics, 7-1.2 Equal Educational Opportunities, and 7-1.4 Student Records.

Some speakers who were opposed to the policies recommend that the school board instead look into gender-neutral bathroom options for students, while others believe that the board should be more focused on addressing mental health issues and bullying inside schools, rather than adopting transgender policies.

Parents of transgender students present at the meeting believe it’s the board’s duty to keep all students safe, but she also recognizes the strong opposition against adopting such policies in the county.

“The opposition is just so strong in Hanover County, there are so many people who are against his policy,” Ann said. “Even though it is a law, I believe that eventually, Hanover County will do the right thing but I don’t know how that’s gonna happen I don’t know what’s gonna make it happen.

“The school board really needs to take into consideration the rights and privileges of all students in the schools and weigh those and be able to come together as a community and address those policies,” Family Foundation Government Executive Director Todd Gathje, said.

The special meeting comes on the heels of a demonstration earlier this morning. Around 30 parents and students gathered in front of Atlee High School in support of a fellow classmate who is transgender. The students lined the entrance holding signs that say, ‘Trans Rights Are Human Rights’.

Engel is a transgender senior at Atlee High School who attended the demonstration in addition to the special meeting.

“It really lifted my spirits. I did not expect that many people to be there,” Engel said. “We did have two trucks specifically drive-by honking and making gestures at us, but other than that it was a great experience filled with love and I hope that we can carry that support into this meeting because I know that this is going to have a lot more opposition.”

Despite multiple outbursts throughout the duration of the meeting, the board member said he was proud of the participants during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“This is the Hanover County that I am proud to be a part of. We listened to each other,” Axselle said. “We don’t always agree, but we do listen.”

School Board Chair and Ashland District Director, Ola J. Hawkins said that the transgender policy will be an action item next during the Nov. 9 meeting, but that there is no guarantee that the policy will be adopted, rejected, revised, or if a decision on the policy could be postponed to a later date.

“I hope that they are going to be able to treat us like other students, just like they treat every other student. I hope we’re going to be able to use the facilities like every other student and have accommodations made where necessary, but right now we’re being kept from other students,” Engel said.

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