Town Hall informs and discuss transgender policy concerns

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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Chuckatuck Borough school board member Kimberly Slingluff focused much of her town hall last week pointing to differences in proposed Suffolk Public Schools’ and the state’s model transgender policies.

During the Thursday, Sept. 7, gathering at the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Club. Slingluff reviewed the draft updates and shared her concerns about possible issues that would arise if the current version is approved by the school board.

“I think that everybody in Suffolk needs to be informed and know about what’s going on in our school system,” she said. “Even if you don’t have children, it’s very important to weigh in on that.”

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Slingluff said discussion would be on the model policy.

“This is about the safety and the policy for our schools and how we are going to handle the emerging needs for the schools to protect our kids,” Slingluff said. “It’s not to weigh in on how you feel either way, because that’s not the issue.” 

During the discussion, Slingluff compared the Virginia Department of Education’s model policy with draft changes from the proposed SPS policy. Her key focus areas were parental notification, locker rooms and bathroom usage and school sports. 

  • Proposed SPS draft changes for counseling services reads “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.” 
  • VDOE’s policy on material information reads “No policy, guidance, training, or other written material issued by Suffolk Public Schools may encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student’s parents including information related to gender.” 

SPS’s proposed draft changes adds “unless the student for health and safety reasons has requested that information not be disclosed to the student’s parents” and strikes out “including information related to gender.”

  • Gender identity policy adaptations include “…but must disclose it to the parent of any student” seeing an addition of “unless such disclosure would pose a danger to the student’s health and mental wellness…” When one attendee asked if these were for “all policies or just the transgender policy,” Slingluff clarified it’s only for this specific policy.

“That’s why it’s important that we look at the parental rights here, because when I read this, I see a slippery slope,” Slingluff said. “If the precedence is set here at this point, that in this area we can withhold this and there’s subjectivity based upon the interpretation of the teacher or the counselor or the administrator, then who’s to say that it won’t leak out to everywhere in the school system.”

SPS is also seeking to adjust the VDOE policy in regards to locker rooms and bathroom usage. VDOE’s model policy says “Students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex…,” and SPS proposes the language adjsuted to read “Students should be allowed to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity” and “…restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity will be available to all students.”

School athletics also sees a draft change from the VDOE’s policy. The VDOE policy states that any school program “…that are separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students will be determined by sex, rather than gender or gender identity.” 

SPS’s draft policy recommends adhering to the current regulations of the Virginia High School League. 

“Athletic participation regulated by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) or another organization must be in compliance with policies and rules outlined by those organizations.” 

SPS’s proposed policy removes language that allows athletic participation to be determined by gender or gender identity.

Other miscellaneous topics were discussed such as counseling services, use of name and gender pronouns and model policy text being stricken, omitted or modified for SPS’ proposed policy. 

Following the Town Hall, Slingluff said that she was “very pleased” with the turnout while being “encouraged” by the dialogue that took place. She talked about what she hoped people would take away from the discussion.

“I hope that they feel educated and empowered to speak up and to encourage the school board to do the right thing on behalf of all children,” Slingluff said.

Slingluff said she believes residents should make their voices heard.

“I am encouraging citizens to reach out to all school board members to express their views regarding the proposed policy and to sign up to speak during public comment time at the next school board meeting,” she said.

Slingluff explained why she believes it is important for residents to be aware of “ramifications” of adopting the proposed SPS transgender policy.

“This policy not only endangers parental rights but jeopardizes student safety at school. It undermines the value of the parental role and threatens to subjectively leave parents in the dark during a critical time when their children need them most,” Slingluff said. “Our school board is mandated by law to adopt a policy consistent with Gov. Youngkin’s Model Policy released last July. The SPS Proposed Transgender Policy is not in compliance.”

She said she believes that if the school board adopts the draft policy, it directly violates state code and the law.

The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at John F. Kennedy Middle School, 2325 E. Washington St.