Franklin County residents address transgender policies, critical race theory during school board meeting

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 6:17 AM EDT
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FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The Franklin County School Board meeting continued into the early Tuesday-morning hours. Nearly 100 people spoke about the state’s new policies on transgender students and how history should be taught in the school system.

Parents, students and officials have concerns about how to be a more inclusive school system when it comes to allowing transgender students to live within their gender identity without making other students and families uncomfortable.

“There was a reason that separated bathrooms and locker rooms were created for higher elementary to high school-aged students to begin with,” one woman said.

“I would go to the student services restroom out of fear of how people would treat me and not wanting to make people uncomfortable,” a current transgender high school senior said. “Maybe provide students with an alternative if it’s that big of a concern.”

In March, a statewide “model policy” was rolled out for public school boards to follow. Some of those revised policies include allowing students to use a name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity and access to facilities that correspond to a students’ gender identity.

It’s a debate that has sparked controversy around the Commonwealth. Some say new policies are inappropriate and puts students in awkward and dangerous positions.

“The LGBT policies ignore basic biology,” Dawn McCray, who is running for a seat on the school board in 2022, said. “They’re trampling parental rights. They encourage compulsory speech. And some of the extended rights of our transgender students are coming at the expense of our daughters’ rights.”

Others, including Franklin County students who are transgender and their parents, pushed back saying they just want to have a safe and comfortable learning environment.

“Imagine, where is it safe for these kids to go to the bathroom? Where can they just go about their day, the same way your kids do? What if this was your kid? Cause it is mine. She’s a transgender girl, and she’s 18, and she’s courageous,” one mom said.

After the meeting, WDBJ7 spoke to school board members about their plans moving forward. Julie Nix said they won’t be creating any new policies specifically for transgender students because they’re already protected in the school system’s non-discrimination policy. However, new procedures are being discussed and will be revisited at the next board meeting.

“We’re trying to work within the framework of the state and federal governments with everything that’s been handed down to us,” Nix said. “We’re just trying to do the best we can to take care of our children. And I know that’s what we as a board want. That’s what the public wants. We just may have different ideas as to how to get there.”

Critical Race Theory was also a hot topic at Monday night’s meeting.

“I’m here to figure out if I’m going to send my kids to Franklin County Public Schools,” one father opened with when he got to the podium.

It’s been a nationwide discussion over the last several months. Some say it’s racist and anti-American to teach critical race theory. Others say it’s important to teach about racism in history in order to combat it in present day.

Many residents of Franklin County came to the school board meeting to speak to the school board about their issues pertaining to critical race theory.

“CRT is already in our schools,” one man said.

“This year the Virginia legislative passed a law mandating that all public school teachers participate in what is essentially critical race theory, which really they just renamed it cultural competency is all they did,” another man said.

“This nightmare of a program will cause all kinds of societal and sadistic issues,” a man added.

“In other words if you’re white, you’re guilty and if you’re black, you’re a victim,” a man said.

But others were equally passionate that accurate and unbiased history is what’s being taught in schools.

“As a history teacher, let’s start with the facts. Because that is what we teach. Fact one, Franklin County Public Schools does not teach CRT,” one woman said to the packed room.

“I wholeheartedly applaud the work of the Virginia Department of Education to revise our history curriculum so that it is inclusive and more closely reveals the truth of the past of our nation,” another woman added. “That is the facts. The facts of what happened.”

In response to both sides of the debate, the school board will be creating a committee made up of Franklin County educators, community members and historians. They’ll be reviewing the district’s history curriculum and will be making recommendations for changes.

While the committee and the district can’t change the standards handed down by the state, they can exceed the standards by teaching more or extra information.

“This is going to help ensure that we go deeper and that we help out students to critical think about what it is they’re being taught instead of just being fed information,” Nix said.

Applications will be open for that committee in September for anyone from Franklin County who’s interested.

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