Montgomery Co. board members raise concerns about prematurely ‘outing’ transgender students

CHRISTIANSBURG — The Montgomery County School Board is looking at an adjustment to its new policy on the treatment of transgender students, a move that would offer stronger protections for children who have fears about disclosing their status to their parents.

The measure, which the school board could take a vote on in December, involves the addition of a line in the policy that will direct school staff to explain to a student the procedure to be followed once the student discloses their gender identities and begins to issue a request in relation to their status.

Several school board members on Tuesday voiced concerns about a process that calls for the schools to ultimately tell parents about requests such as their children asking to be referred to by the pronouns they identify with. The change would clarify to students that they can hold off on the request if they’re still unsure about whether they want their parents to know.

“As soon as there’s any inkling that this maybe a conversation related to [being transgender] in any kind of way, that they stop the conversation and help the child understand this is the next step if we have this conversation,” school board member Penny Franklin said, summarizing the proposed policy change.

Several school board members pushed for a further look at the transgender policy due, in large part, to concerns about whether some students would be safe upon disclosing their status to their parents.

Members of the division’s administration, however, described the issue as a tricky one due to the long-standing rights of parents to know about issues related to their children in the schools.

Deputy Superintendent Annie Whitaker 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.

“We’re interpreting something I don’t think really is the intention of the law,” said board member Sue Kass. “I think we really need to clarify what it is.”

The recent talk over the adjustment of the MCPS policy also raised some legal questions due to what the school board attorney said is the rights of parents to contribute to the upbringing of their children.

Superintendent Mark Miear said at one point during the lengthy discussion Tuesday night that the district can, on a case by case basis, limit disclosures of certain issues if it’s clear there is a strong safety concern.

“But that’s a hard thing,” he said. “ What we’re saying [is] we have to be really sure that they’re not going to be safe. I mean, we have kids who ask us to not report their grades to their parents. Well, we have an obligation to report grades to their parents.”

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