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LGBTQ resolution sparks debate at Virginia Beach School Board meeting

According to the board, 111 people signed up to speak on a proposed resolution presented by Virginia Beach School Board member Jessica Owens.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Students, teachers and parents packed the school board meeting in Virginia Beach to stand up for transgender rights Tuesday night.

Many spoke in support of a resolution that could possibly block the state’s proposed model policies. However, there was no vote tonight – and the discussion continues.

According to the board, 111 people signed up to speak on a proposed resolution presented by School Board member Jessica Owens.

Student after student approached the podium Tuesday night to applaud the measure.

“Every student matters, no matter what. I’d like to thank Mrs. Owens for hearing our pleas,” said one student.

In her proposal, Owens wrote the board will “adopt no policies in violation of state or federal law that would impede our ability to provide these guaranteed protections to our students.”

“It is simply a reaffirmation to trans students that they are equal and have a place in the classroom,” said another student.

Many interpreted the policies Owens is referring in the resolution as the state’s proposed model policies that, in their current form, would require things like parental approval for any changes to students’ names or pronouns and would require students to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex.

Some people spoke in favor of the state’s policies and against what Owens is proposing.

“Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin’s policies appropriately strengthen the rights of parents, families and our society,” said one speaker.

Another mother agreed.

“Instead of getting distracted from the real issues at play here, like our children’s safety and trying to fall in line with current fads and trends, I urge you to come together and actually put all of our students first,” she said.

Speaker Dan Chang said he applauded the student speakers for sharing their thoughts, though he feels differently.

"I do not hate you, I disagree with you," he said.

Another speaker said they also oppose Owens' proposed resolution.

"We have got to find some middle ground here. Our positions are not fueled by hate. Surely there should be protections for all the students."

Some board members were vocal in their opposition, like Victoria Manning.

She said she doesn’t want to preemptively reject the state’s policies.

“Parents have the constitutional rights to not have secrets kept from them about students,” said Manning.

The school board has not adopted any of the model policies at this point. The state opened public comment back in September and received 71,000 comments.

The Virginia Department of Education is still reviewing those responses.

Owens assured the board this is not a policy change and says the resolution isn’t necessarily rejecting those model policies because they haven’t seen the final draft.

“By affirming our commitment to what we are already doing, that seems like not that difficult a decision to make,” said Owens.

Board Chair Trenace Riggs also made a point to say that despite some "misleading" social media comments, this resolution has nothing to do with athletics. Those decisions are made by VHSL for high school sports.

This resolution could be up for a vote at one of the upcoming meetings

For the time being, many of the board members asked for some clarifications to be written in before they move forward.

"I think this policy is extremely vague," said Board Member Carolyn Weems.

Many of them want to see specific language excluding sports, as well as clarifying some of, what they call, vague language to know exactly what they would be supporting.

Alex Elsrodt, Emily LaBar and Alana Spencer are three of the students who have been spearheading a movement to speak at every school board meeting since September.

Elsrodt said with this resolution, they finally feel heard.

“We really just want this board to ensure they maintain the status quo within their system. We aren’t asking for some radical change to move this board to the left. We’re just looking for them to maintain the status quo and not adopt these policies and not adopt anything that would endanger our fellow students,” he said before the meeting.

LaBar said they don't feel they are asking for anything extreme.

"I think it's important that all students, regardless of any of their characteristics, feel safe at school," she said. "I just want them to listen to what we're saying." 

Spencer agreed.

"We just want the current policies to continue so everybody, all students, can feel safe."

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