Botetourt parents up in arms at school board

Nearly 100 people packed a meeting Thursday, focused on issues around transgender students and critical race theory
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 2:03 AM EDT
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FINCASTLE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Botetourt County, nearly 100 parents packed the school board meeting Thursday night. The crowd was focused on two controversial issues: state policy on transgender students and critical race theory.

By the time Thursday’s school board meeting started, parents and county residents filled the board room and the lobby, and spilled out onto the sidewalk.

“I am a parent of a transgender child,” said one woman. “My son and others like him just want to be treated like everyone else. They just want to blend in with the crowd.”

“I have read this transgender policy model. And as a Catholic mother I am absolutely appalled!” said another.

Most speakers argued against new guidance from the Virginia Department of Education on transgender students. That guidance includes when districts should use a transgender student’s chosen name, allow students to participate in sports, and use restrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identities.

School Board members noted the policy they approved Thursday night isn’t the model policy handed down by VDOE. Instead, Botetourt’s rules already met state standards.

“BCPS has elected to continue with our current polices that we feel offer protection to our current students,” said Dr. Jonathan Russ, Botetourt County superintendent.

So many people stepped up to speak that the board added a second public comment period. Members of the community spent 90 minutes expressing their frustration, much of that time spent arguing against critical race theory, which focuses on the role of racism and white supremacy in American History.

“I cannot believe that Botetourt County would want anything to do with some of the ideas and policies that I assume Richmond and I guess the White House in DC want to shove down everybody’s throat,” said one man.

After members of the crowd spoke, board chair Anna Weddle read a statement saying the district doesn’t, and won’t, have critical race theory as part of its curriculum.

“The term is not mentioned in standards, nor in curriculum,” she said.

Board member Michelle Austin also shared letters sent to state leaders, including Gov. Ralph Northam, in opposition to CRT.

“Has the VDOE considered that the resulting controversy could compromise the safety of our students and educators?” she said, noting one of several concerns she raised in the letter.

The board also voted on a new schedule and health plan for students in the fall. According to the plan, kids will be back on a pre-pandemic schedule, in class five days a week.

The board pegged their health plan for the fall to the latest CDC and VDH guidance. As of Thursday, that guidance would require students to wear masks and practice social distancing where possible. That could change before the start of the school year.

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