Protect Everyone; Remember You are Government and Not an Advocacy Group
I write to urge that the model policies that you are developing pursuant to a legislative mandate be written in a manner to enable readers, but especially school boards, to trace to their source the assertions made. That request pertains equally to statements that purport to recite scientific facts, statements of law, and policy recommendations. I urge you to reconsider the inclusion of findings of advocacy organizations such as GLSEN. I also urge that you make it clear when a government agency is quoted, whether it is a Virginia, federal or some other government and the date of the quote. For example, assertions are attributed to an Office of Civil Rights without it being further identified or the date of the statement. The list of references recites a publication of such an office from 2001, but no date appears at the site of the quote. If dates were recited at the locations of specific quotes, readers may be on alert to check to see if there has been a change in science, law or policy in the intervening years. The subject addressed is a sensitive one and impacts not only sexual minority students, but their classmates and family members. I urge you to make recommendations that protect the privacy and modesty of both the students who are questioning their sex at birth as well as those who are not. Providing for the availability of individual one-room bathrooms and changing facilities protects the interests of all in privacy and modesty. In contradiction, however, the draft policy also gives priority to accommodating the interest of gender-fluid persons in using such facilities with others who do not share their gender at birth or anatomy. The failure to respect the privacy of the vast majority of students is the greatest failing of your recommendation. It is followed closely by your insistence that school personnel not question any student who decides at the time of entry into a bathroom or dressing room not selected previously. Numerous assertions are made about legal requirements in a very new and ill-defined area of the law without any concession of uncertainty. An official publication of the Commonwealth should clearly distinguish between established law, areas in which the applicable law is in dispute, and policy preferences. The failure of the current draft to do so suggests an intent to mislead local school boards into thinking it must do things that at present are matters in which local decisionmakers retain discretion. The current draft needs to be totally overhauled. It is an advocacy piece for one side of a very lively debate in our society. When it serves its purposes it describes gender identity as “innate” and when it does not, it is described as fluid or diverse. While urging that school personnel not force societal values on noncomforming students, It recommends that they intervene within families to promote support for gender transition. At times withholding of information from parents or colleges is advocated, while at others public discussion of very personal matters is promoted. Bullying should be punished and discouraged whatever its roots. But your message in that regard is muddled by treating as equivalent belittling of individuals and the use of pronouns that do not correspond to a student’s fleeting sense of gender identity. Capable faculty already face too much second guessing by administrators and parents to be subject to punishment or “reeducation” for not calling a student by a preferred pronoun such as “ze.” Are the recommended policies responding to actual problems found in your Department’s review of Virginia public schools? I submit that would be a more appropriate way to determine the scope of your report than your reliance on GLSEN or the California Safe Schools Coalition. I urge you to request from the General Assembly an extension of time for it to evaluate your product and only thereafter mandate that elected school boards have to adopt oolicies consistent with it. The legislation authorizing this project delegated an unconstitutional amount of discretion to this quasi-governmental group to bind elected school boards. It was premature to mandate that local school boards “adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than” the model policies before the contents of this document could be known.