FALLS CHURCH, Va.— Parents booed, hissed, shouted and had the police called on them last night as the country's tenth largest school district's school board voted to add "gender identity" to their nondiscrimination policies in order to comply with a federal mandate.
The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is requiring schools to add "gender identity" to their nondiscrimination policies or face a loss of federal funding, despite the fact that no Fairfax County student has complained of discrimination to OCR.
"The Federal government is compelling us — their words — to implement this gender identity language. They've threatened that if we do not they will pull our federal education funds, free and reduced meal money for impoverished students," said Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz.
Parents late to arrive to the contentious school board meeting of the Fairfax County Public School system (FCPS) were forced to wait outside Luther Jackson Middle School as the decision was made, while the school board threatened to throw hundreds of parents out after they loudly expressed their objection to the policy change.
"The school board should be making decisions to improve math, reading, writing, science and U.S. history. Not making decisions on political, social engineering," one parent told the board to applause from the other parents.
The decision to add "gender identity" to the nondiscrimination policy passed in a 10-1 vote.
"The U.S. Department of Education has told school districts that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX and has recently required some school districts including Alexandria, Va., to amend their policies to expressly include gender identity," Fairfax County School Board Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax said in a statement after the vote.
"The decision by the School Board to add 'gender identity' to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect," she said.
Parents at the meeting, who were overwhelmingly against the policy change, expressed many concerns, including issues of sexual harassment, how this would effect which bathrooms boys and girls use, whether boys will be able to play on girls' sports teams, how quickly and by what process a student or teacher will or can change genders and many other questions which they say have not been answered.
The Fairfax County Public School system says "no decisions have yet been made regarding accommodations that will be provided" and have hired a consultant to address these questions later. The consultant is another part of the federal mandate.
"You don't take votes on things for which you're uneducated and uninformed to figure out later," Schultz said before the measure passed.
"We can't say we are just going to pass policy and we will get the regulations in five months," she added. "Here's the policy and we'll work it out later."
In the overflow area outside the overfull school building, a handful of LGBT supporters, including some from Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG,) held signs that said "Fairfax respects everyone."
Supporters said that while trans kids make up a very small fraction of the school population, statistics show they are bullied and hopefully this policy will stop that.
"Every student, regardless of gender identity, deserves respect," said one supporter.
An 18-year-old student that does not identify as either male or female clashed loudly with protestors holding signs that said "Protect children and transgenders. Vote no." The student, who requested to be identified as "they" rather than "he" or "she," said protestors claimed the student was mentally ill.
The policy change protects both transgender students and teachers from discrimination.
"I think having a transgender teacher is a concern for any parent. I think it would be beyond confusing!" said Keith Appell, father of two daughters in the Fairfax County public school system.
"The science isn't settled, why would you pass policy when the science isn't even settled," added Appell, pointing to the nature of sexual identity fluidity.
A parent of a kindergartener said, "I don't want to have these kinds of conversations with my six-year-old. I don't want a social agenda pushed on me or my kids."
Virginia delegate Bob Marshall, R-Va., said the school board has no authority to pass the measure and that there will be lawsuits in the wake of last night's decision.
The Department of Education confirmed that OCR has no open investigations on gender identity against the Fairfax County Public Schools.
In April 2014, the Department of Education added "gender identity" to the list of people with protected status under Title IX, which was passed in 1972 to protect students from discrimination. OCR clarified in recent guidance documents that it will investigate "discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity," according to a Department of Education spokesperson. "Students who do not conform to sex stereotypes are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX."
OCR investigated the City of Alexandria Public Schools and the Arcadia School District in California and forced them to enter resolution agreements on issues related to "gender identity."
"We see no reason to conclude that OCR would treat FCPS any differently than it has Arcadia or Alexandria in its requirement to amend the discrimination policy to include 'gender identity,'" wrote Fairfax County Deputy Superintendent Steven Lockard in a memo before the vote.
As a school board member, Schultz said she saw the decision before the school board in the shadow of the nation's capital as a watershed moment: "Are we imperiling $640 billion in federal funding to implement a radical social agenda from the federal government?"
She added, "Does this become an unending stream of federal government overreach directing local education policy for every jurisdiction over the country for every state in the United States?"