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FCPS updates student handbook to help protect LGBTQ rights, safety

A Fairfax County Public Schools employee and parent speaks in favor of updates to its student handbook (via FCPS)

Cheers and applause came after the Fairfax County Public Schools board updated its student handbook to better document harmful and suspension-worthy conduct and protect different gender identities and expressions.

The updates that the school board approved Thursday (July 15) ensure that the handbook conforms with FCPS policies supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-expansive, and other students (LGBTQ+).

Cementing established protections for students from being intentionally outed or misgendered, the move comes amid intensifying discrimination against transgender people in particular across much of the U.S.

The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said in May that state legislatures have introduced — and in some cases, adopted — “unprecendented” amount of anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including many that specifically target young people and deal with schools.

Efforts in Loudoun County to adopt a policy ensuring students will be identified by their correct names and pronouns and use bathrooms that match their gender identity led to an ongoing lawsuit and a contentious school board meeting that resulted in an arrest and an injury.

While FCPS added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 2015, the furor in Loudoun unnerved many Fairfax County LGBTQ+ students and staff.

“To the gender-expansive and transgender students and their families who have witnessed these attacks on their simple human dignity, I am sorry,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, Fairfax County’s first openly gay school board member, said on Thursday. “You deserve much, much more.”

Frisch detailed many of the approved changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) book in a blog post:

For the first time ever, as an extension of the school board’s nondiscrimination policy, FCPS regulations, and Virginia code, this document specifically identifies several rights of particular interest to gender-expansive and transgender students. Among them are the right to use facilities that align with their gender identity, the right to be called by their chosen name and pronoun, the right to nondisclosure of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and the right to receive supports that ensure equitable access.

Other updates include a more detailed definition of hate speech, more specific language around the role of school resource officers, and an alignment of the school system’s policies on marijuana with its alcohol policies after Virginia legalized small amounts of the drug for adults 21 and older, effective July 1.

The Fairfax County School Board adopted a regulation stating that students should be called by their chosen name and pronouns, can use locker rooms and restrooms consistent with their gender identity, and can wear any clothing as long as it complies with the dress code in October.

The regulation also banned deadnaming, which has now been prohibited in the SR&R handbook, along with malicious misgendering.

The school board previously approved a regulation addressing many of these issues in July 2016, but FCPS decided to wait on officially implementing it to see the outcome of various court cases and legal issues.

The board took up the topic again last year after the Virginia General Assembly passed a law in March 2020 that required school districts to have policies on the treatment of transgender students in place by the 2021-2022 school year.

Under the new law, local policies must conform to the state education department’s model policy, which requires schools to respond to “discrimination on the basis of sex, including on the basis of the student’s nonconformance to stereotyped notions of gender.”

It also mandates that schools let students dress how they choose within the confines of the dress code, provide a safe environment that discourages bullying, and protect student privacy by not disclosing a student’s gender identity.

Dozens of attendees at the Fairfax County School Board’s meeting on Thursday showed their support for LGBTQ+ community members by standing up while speakers shared their experiences before the board.

“Our queer and transgender students deserve to be treated like the human beings that they are,” said Ær Queen, a 2009 Fairfax High School graduate and current music teacher with the district.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGTBQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

“Tonight’s vote will not sweep away the pain and hurt you have experienced at the hands of careless peers or adults who should know better,” Frisch, who sponsored the motion, said. “But the changes we approve in this new Student Rights and Responsibilities document demonstrate our commitment to your success and safety in Fairfax County Public Schools. They are long overdue.”

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