Parents vs policy in town hall discussion

Published 5:06 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

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“Our heart is for our kids.” 

This is what one citizen conveyed during an evening of conversations held at a town hall hosted by Holy Neck Borough schools board member Dawn Marie Brittingham, Ed.D, Tuesday, Aug. 29, at the Holland Community House. 

The meeting focused her concerns on the recent draft updates to the school’s transgender policy, where the proposed updates allow school officials to exclude parents if it is deemed best for the student’s health and wellness.

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The proposed working 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.”

Residents came out to voice their concerns, confusion and the importance of communication between parents and their children. 

Brittingham outlined her issues with the school’s current policy.

“For me right now, our current policy is very anti-parent in a very delicate situation that a parent should absolutely be a part of and should be spearheading on the behalf of their child,” Brittingham said. “The parent should be the greatest advocate of their child, not the school system,” 

One citizen wants schools to remain focused on teaching standard education instead of observing the current issues.

“The school should take care of reading, writing … personal things, family issues should be taken care of by the parent,” the unidentified speaker said. “The schools are there to teach. The schools have lost their way somewhere along the way, thinking they can go beyond educating your kids. They can give them moral lessons.
The speaker went on to say parents may want to bring up their children as religious, not religious, adding it’s not for a school to do it.

“We pay tax dollars for a school to educate them so that when they graduate, they can get a job, they can read and write and that’s the school’s job. That’s it. End of discussion.”

Another resident discussed being an aunt to two out of five of her nieces and nephews identifying as transgender. 

“I don’t even know what to call them. I’m I supposed to call them nieces and nephews? Am I allowed? I’m not allowed to say that. I honestly don’t know what to call these children who I love dearly, I want the best in life for,” she said.

Another speaker pointed to the importance of supporting the changed mandates from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education.

“Those new policies bring the parent in. And if somebody at the school believes that the child can’t safely relate this to their parents, then they have a legal obligation to call CPS (Child Protective Services), which then involves the parents,” she said. “Now you have the parents involved, now you have the school involved and now you have the parents, who may be a complete revelation to them, and now they have the opportunity where they can get that certified counseling that they’re going to get from a professional, not just from somebody in the school. So that’s more protective of the children because then, instead of them being coerced or then if they’re confused … that brings the family into it so the family can address it from a family point of view with licensed therapists.”

A teacher reflected on her experience of working with the school’s current rules.

“I have been taught to … if I have a problem with the child, you call the parent and you try to work it out … but that’s not the policy now,” she said. “If a kid does not want me to tell their parents that they are changing clothes when they get there, they want to be called ‘Billy’ when they’re ‘Julie,’ I can’t say anything to the parent. I have to ask the child ‘what name do I call you when I call your parent?’”

The next speaker asked about the importance of parents communicating with their children.

“For me to even think that my child will have the need to go to someone else and let them know that they have a gender identity crisis. Because that’s so personal,” she said. “So my thing is, where is parenting?”

She said the lack of communication within families at the dinner table, during prayer, and daily activities is getting in the way of daily conversations with each other, resulting in many children turning to social media for communication.

“It all breaks down to how we communicate as a family, and mostly as a parent,” she said. “We need to tell our children and our grandchildren how important it is to communicate with one another and love each other. And when starting [to] having these identity crises. It’s more to an identity crisis than just whether I want to be a boy or a girl. It’s the most complex thing in our human nature and our sexuality. It’s extremely complex.”

Along with other topics including the financial cost of counseling, parents choosing to home school, and both distrust and appreciation over school board members, one resident pointed to how those attending the meeting want what’s best for their children while noting the need for more positivity when dealing with the issues.

“I actually agree we do need to be more positive because that’s what it’s all about. Let’s keep the big picture in mind — we love our kids, everybody matters. Whether they’re transgender, they’re gay, they’re straight, or whatever, we love them. They are made in the image of God,” she said. “I think it would be good to come up with some kind of positive slogan because most people want what’s good. Most people do want what’s good for our kids.”

Following a prayer for the well-being of their children and their educators, Brittingham said she believes the town hall was successful.

“I really appreciated everyone who came out here and all the comments that they’ve provided. I am looking forward to being able to take back the comments and the discussion that we have and share it with the board,” Brittingham said.

She hopes she was able to provide information on the model policy for those attending to consider when voting. 

Brittingham also said she hopes for a public hearing before they vote on the model policy.

“I asked for a public hearing on Aug. 7 when we had our Policy Review Committee Meeting and at that time, I was not granted a public hearing,” she said. “I would like to have a public hearing set on the agenda officially before our October meeting so that the public has an opportunity to come and speak on this topic,” said Brittingham. 

The Suffolk School Board’s next meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at John F. Kennedy Middle School.