Bedford County School Board approves changes to policy on “teaching about controversial issues”

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 1:36 AM EDT
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BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The Bedford County School Board, in a 5-1 vote, has approved changing policy INB in Bedford County Public Schools Thursday night. The policy focuses on “teaching about controversial issues,” which includes discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The verbiage on sexual orientation and gender identity specifically said: “In addition, teachers shall not engage in discussions with students about sexual orientation or gender identity. “Sexual orientation” is defined as an individual’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same and/or different gender. “Gender identity” is defined as an individual’s personal conception of their gender.”

The board amended the above verbiage to switch the word “engage” with “initiate” before approving it. This came after mixed responses from public speakers at the meeting.

”This policy as written serves to support parental rights in that it ensures that a parent is the person who discusses controversial issues including sexual orientation and gender identity with their child,” said Amy Snead, a BCPS parent.

“It’s creating this climate of fear and confusion and discrimination and probably bullying. It’s working to effectively erase LGBTQ+ presence in BCPS,” said Cindy Younghouse, a BCPS parent.

Before the vote, a back and forth began between board members Dr. Susan Mele and Marcus Hill.

“We are telling parents that we are putting this back on them to take care of at home, not for our teachers, our administrators, or anybody in the school system, to handle any type of gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom. And so yet again, she (Mele) wants to remove the parental rights, and we are not going to do that,” said Hill.

“I’m not trying to remove parent rights at all. But what my concern is, if you want to, as a parent, take anything with regard to your child and say, I don’t want my child involved in that, I have no problem with that at all; I never have. But I think it’s not appropriate when some members of this community believe that it’s incumbent upon them to force their beliefs, religious values, opinions upon all students. So you have the right to do anything you want with your child, just not everyone else’s child,” said Mele.

Mele was the only board member to vote against the policy change. Georgia Hairston was not present for the meeting. Superintendent Dr. Marc Bergin responded to the decision and some of the concerns that were raised from the board and community members.

“When providing instruction, as long as the discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity relates to the standards of the course, while using approved curriculum materials, teachers do not need to be concerned that they’re in violation of school board policy. This caution about using approved curriculum materials already exists in multiple school board policies, including policy IA instructional goals and objectives. ...This policy does not restrict students from initiating a conversation with a staff member. If a student is upset and initiates a conversation with a trusted teacher or a counselor, the revisions to this policy do not eliminate nor lessen the responsibility of our teachers and our support staff members, as articulated in our strategic plan to provide for a safe and supportive learning environment both physically and emotionally. Including the importance of creating a school culture of acceptance, so that schools promote a sense of belonging foster students social and emotional development. Consequently, if a student is upset, and initiates a conversation with their teacher, the teacher should listen with empathy, they should take action as appropriate, particularly when the concern relates to bullying or harassment. And they should encourage that student to speak with their parents,” said Bergin.