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Montgomery County School Board passes adjustment to transgender student policy

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CHRISTIANSBURG — The Montgomery County School Board approved a measure on Tuesday to offer stronger protections to transgender students who still have fears about disclosing their status to their parents.

The board, on a 5-2 vote, passed a tweak to the still relatively new division policy on the treatment of transgender students.

Despite the policy’s existence — itself prompted by earlier legislation from the General Assembly — some school board members had voiced concerns about the measure leading to premature outings of certain students to their parents.

“This in no way takes away parents’ right to know,” board member Penny Franklin, who voted in favor of the change, said. “It empowers students to be able to make a decision for themselves.”

Overall, the policy passed by the Montgomery County School Board in August bolsters efforts to combat harassment and discrimination of students based on gender identity and expression. Among the more specific points, the policy provides guidance on the use of school facilities and participation in school programs and ensures every student’s right to be addressed by the names and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity or expression.

Shortly after the policy’s approval, however, several board members raised concerns about a process that calls for schools to ultimately tell parents about requests such as their children asking to be referred to by the pronouns they identify with.

MCPS officials had told board members that a student requesting a teacher to refer to them by certain pronouns must generally be passed to a counselor, formally creating a counseling session that must be disclosed to parents.

The matter has been described by school officials as a tricky one due to the rights of parents to know about issues related to their children in the schools and the need to ensure the safety of children at home.

The policy adjustment approved Tuesday covers the early steps staff must take when a student requests to express a chosen name and pronoun that reflect their gender identity.

“Once a staff member becomes aware that a student wishes to begin asserting a gender identity that differs from official school records, the staff member will notify the student of the process to seek accommodations, which includes parent and school counselor notification … and ask if the student would like to proceed,” reads the approved measure.

The measure also specifies that staff can refer the student to another employee who knows the process and who will ask the student if they would like to proceed with the request.

Several students in Montgomery County schools have spoken in favor of providing stronger protections for classmates who have yet to disclose their gender identity to their parents.

“A support system is necessary,” Elizabeth Rowland, a junior at Christiansburg High School, said during public comments on Tuesday. “In many cases, parents [of transgender students] are unaccepting of their child’s gender identity, which can result in that child being kicked out of their home.”

Rowland during her comments further cited some figures on youth homelessness, which the CHS junior said includes a notable amount of youth who identify as LGBTQ+.

“There’s a staggering disproportion of homelessness among these populations,” Rowland said. “The fear of homelessness is omnipresent in LGBTQ+ youth, and school counselors need to be able to lessen that fear, not build on it.”

​Board members Jamie Bond and Dana Partin voted against the policy adjustment.

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