SPS transgender policy update brings out opposition voices, their concerns

Published 4:29 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

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Several city residents turned out Thursday night to voice their opposition to draft updates to Suffolk Public Schools’ draft updates to its transgender policy.

The speakers addressed the issue during the non-agenda portion of the Thursday, Aug. 10 School Board meeting. 

The update was first reviewed Monday, Aug. 7 by the Policy Committee Meeting where proposed updates recommended by Superintendent John B. Gordon III, Ph.D, sparked discussion and debate over language dealing with the role of school officials, parents and students. At that meeting, it was mentioned that residents wanting to address the policy could do so at this or other upcoming meetings.

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All the speakers Thursday cam express their disapproval of the policy. 

Jason Runner told the School Board he is “appalled” the issue has reached Suffolk Public Schools.

“The amount of Americans that do not want this far, far outnumbers the amount of people who do,” he contended. “I hereby formally request that the School Board hold a public hearing on this policy.”

Chris Dove voiced his opposition against schools’ support of what he called “non-standard orientations.”

“Schools have been placed in this position that they should never have been placed in, in the middle of opposing sides on a social issue. Schools are attempting to balance the rights of parents with the rights of students,” Dove said. “I believe schools have gone too far by actively promoting alternative lifestyles,” 

Dove said schools must support the student’s right to live how they choose, along with preventing harassment, bullying and intimidation. 

“But schools should not require anyone to accept something that they don’t agree with,” Dove said. “If an anatomical boy wants to be called ‘Sally,’ then by all means require everyone to use their preferred pronoun. If Sally prefers to wear dresses, then by all means, prevent any harassment, bullying and intimidation that may result.”

However, he said he opposes use of opposite gender restrooms. 

“This crosses the line between student’s welfare in supporting one side of the social issue,” Dove said. “The emotional well-being of some students does not outweigh the emotional well-being of all.”

Resident Dacia Smith contends the proposed policy change is encouraging a family’s break up instead of supporting the children’s parents.

“It proposes that the schools undermine parental authority and encourages secrecy in the parent-child relationship,” she said. “This proposal suggests that when addressing a student’s health, the staff should presume the worst of the parent-child relationship rather than supporting and advocating for parental involvement.” 

While expressing that it takes a collective community to raise the children of Suffolk, Angela Kilgore asked to hold a prayer for Suffolk Public Schools.

School Board Chairman Tyron D. Riddick said under law this is not allowed during the meeting. While he said he does not “object to prayer,” it is out of order during a meeting due to rulings on the separation of church and state. 

“I believe that man should always pray, I mean I love prayer,” Riddick said. “But this is not the place per the law.”

Following being turned away, Kilgore and members of the audience recited the Lord’s prayer. 

Riddick called for a recess, while School Board Attorney Wendell Waller told the chairman to ask the officers to remove the individuals. 

Riddick asked for police to clear the room, but only one officer was needed to come down the aisle to maintain order.

Following the meeting, Riddick said he is concerned he was how people run with misinformation.

“I understand that everyone’s concerned. But as a School Board, we are elected to represent everyone. Even persons whose beliefs may be different from ours. And that’s what citizens have to take into count. Everyone has rights,” Riddick said. “Not just the Christian citizens, not just the non-christian citizens, not just the hetrosexual Christians, but also those who are different than what we have chosen for our personal lives. It is what it is.”

He also added that he doesn’t want citizens to take away a disapproval of prayer from the meeting.

“I believe in being decent and in order,” Riddick said. “We have to be considerate that once we start a practice that that opportunity is afforded to everyone.”

At Monday’s Policy Review Committee meeting, members reviewed the transgender policy that was last updated Aug.12, 2021

The proposed updates focus on definitions, nondiscrimination compliance, counseling service availability, name and pronoun usage and more.

Gordon told the committee that they are going to keep parents involved in what they are trying to do, but noted there has to be some level of being able to preserve the students’ rights when they come into conflict with the parents’ wants.

The proposed update states: “Each school in Suffolk Public Schools will make reasonably available, with available resources, guidance and counseling services to all students as provided in 8-VAC20-620-10. Students may participate in counseling services that may benefit the student’s overall well-being. Students will be required to provide signed parental consent before counseling services are offered, unless Suffolk Public Schools is of the opinion that to require parental consent would pose a danger to the student’s health and mental wellness. To the extent possible, parents will be given the opportunity to object before counseling services pertaining to gender are given.”

School Board member Dawn Marie Brittingham was the only committee member raising concerns, saying it believes the update does the bare minimum to be compliant, saying it should be more in line with the state model.

The proposed update is expected to come to the School Board for adoption in about 60 days.