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Despite new law, Newport News School Board votes against transgender policy updates

Following hours of discussion on Tuesday night, the Newport News School Board decided not to revise the division’s Equal Education Opportunities policy.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The clock is ticking for Hampton Roads school divisions to create more inclusive transgender policies.

A new state law requires school leaders to put rules in place by the first day of school. But transgender policy and procedure changes are off the table in Newport News Public Schools, for now.

Following hours of discussion on Tuesday night, the Newport News School board decided not to revise the division’s Equal Education Opportunities policy.

Board member Gary Hunter cast the only vote in favor of the policy change.

“My vote was... well, number one: safety is always first for all students no matter race, creed, color, sexual identity,” Hunter said. “And number two, I believe, to assure that each and every child gets a quality education that is equitable.”

Currently, the policy states educational programs will not discriminate against any students because of race, color, national origin, sex, creed, marital status, age, or disability.

Division leaders debated adding sexual orientation, sexual identity gender, and gender identity to the list.

“The board is in agreement with the policy, I can say that unofficially,” said Board Chairman Douglas Brown.

Brown said many board members still need clarification on how to implement procedures in each school. The division’s presentation included procedures like allowing students to use the bathroom based on their gender and using preferred pronouns.

“There were issues there with violating parent rights for notification,” Brown said. “There were issues with religious liberty, violating those items as well.”

Back in July State Superintendent James Lane sent a memo to all divisions saying "school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance."

Brown believes the division already meets the requirement.

“Right now, in our estimation our policy is nondiscriminatory, and we feel that it complies,” Brown said.

High school teacher Conor Collins watched the meeting and hopes the board takes on the topic again.

“School should feel like you are at home because you are at school more than you are at home during the school year anyways,” Collins said.

Both Brown and Hunter said at some point the board will revisit adopting new procedures.

“I have great, great confidence in the Superintendent Dr. Parker and the staff, that they will develop a procedure that is acceptable,” Hunter said.

The Portsmouth School Board voted last month to implement the state’s transgender policy.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk School Division said they adopted a transgender policy back in 2019. 13News Now hasn't heard back from Norfolk Public Schools.

VDOE's transgender policy guidelines.

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