On Wednesday, the Prince William County school board held a meeting in which measures that ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation were passed.
Policy 060 now specifically states that "The Division shall not discriminate in employment nor in the provision of educational programs, services, and activities based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, veteran status, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law."
The revision came via a 5-3 vote across the board. Acting member Shawn Brann of the Brentsville District, Willie Deutsch of the Coles District, and Alyson Satterwhite of the Gainesville District voted against the motion.
Whereas Albemarle, Fairfax, and Arlington counties have already approved similar nondiscrimination doctrines, the idea of such measures in Prince William County has sparked controversy amongst locals for the past year. Last September for example, the board ultimately ruled to delay voting on Chairman Ryan Sawyers’ LGBTQ-friendly change.
This year, however, was different.
Over 500 people attended the meeting in Bristow, Va. Many were decked out in purple to express their support for the alteration in the school district’s nondiscrimination policy. This contrasted last year’s meeting in which opponents dressed in red voiced their strong distaste for Chairman Sawyers' proposal.
Following Wednesday’s 5-3 vote in favor of the anti-discriminatory measures, supporters and adversaries of the board’s decision have asserted their hopes and concerns.
The board members who voted against the action cited their fears regarding how the new policy would be implemented throughout the division. Gainesville’s representative, Alyson Satterwhite, worried that her colleagues had failed to define such instructions for Prince William schools prior to passing the alteration.
Opponents who attended Wednesday’s meeting were apprehensive of how the approval of the nondiscrimination measures would translate into bathroom usage throughout the county. Supporters of the change nevertheless countered that the revised version of Policy 060 addresses this matter.
The motion for the nondiscrimination expansion promises that Superintendent Steve Walts “not change the current regulations and practices regarding bathroom and locker room use” and “uphold the fundamental right to privacy.” Each school’s administration will, therefore, determine how to best accommodate transgender students in private settings.
Over the past few weeks, legislators and advocacy groups have been involved with the local process. Congressman Gerry Connolly of Va’s 11th District along with Equality Virginia and Virginia’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have garnered support for the nondiscrimination action in the county by urging the board to back the change. Some conservative officials such as Bob Marshall of Va’s 13th District advised board members to oppose the measure but fell short.
The Prince William County policy alteration was inspired by the shooting of Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fl. approximately one year ago. The targeting of the LGBTQ club led to Chairman Sawyers' proposal of protections for LGBTQ students and staff. Sawyer hopes this can stimulate similar changes throughout the nation.
“Despite all the controversy...we are committed to celebrating diversity, self-expression, and religious freedom in our schools – they are fundamental to the strength of our School Division,” stated Superintendent Steve Walts.