Roanoke Co. School Board adopts model policies for transgender students; one person arrested during meeting

The debate continues over the Virginia Department of Education’s new model policies for transgender students.
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 11:24 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Roanoke County School Board voted Thursday night to adopt a new policy regarding transgender students. The controversial policy is based on guidelines issued by Governor Glenn Youngkin.

For the second time in a month - someone left a Roanoke County School board meeting in handcuffs. Brent Brewer was arrested and police confirmed he is being charged with disorderly conduct. Brewer is a parent of a transgender student in Roanoke County.

The debate continues over the Virginia Department of Education’s new model policies for transgender students.

“We believe strongly that God gives children as an inheritance to parents, and has given authority to the parents to cover, protect, and train their children. Ultimately the education of our children is in our hands,” said Roanoke County resident LaVania Harrell.

“Children need a safe place where they can talk freely and openly, not expecting every word that they say to be transmitted to their parents who might beat them or even worse kick them out of their homes,” said Roanoke Methodist Minister Walter “Ray” Sandifer.

Thursday night, the board voted unanimously to adopt the policies. The policies require schools to notify parents when a student identifies as transgender. The student’s gender at birth must be used for school activities and bathrooms. Students must be referred to by the names and pronouns in their official records - unless a parent says otherwise.

Transgender student Tristan Shepard says this will only increase the bullying kids like her face at school.

“They see me different because I am transgender,” explained Shepard. “And I feel like with the policies that it’s just going to make things worse, because they’re just going to view me as different, and it just singles transgender people out.”

Supporters say the policy affirms parental rights.

“Besides it being a legal right,” said Roanoke County resident Jamie Petrone. “Parents have a God-given right to be involved in every aspect of their child’s life including their education.”

Governor Glen Youngkin says it’s state law to adopt the policies.

“They don’t have a choice,” explained Youngkin. “This isn’t one of these moments. It didn’t say and local school districts get to choose whether they follow this or not. It is as clear as day in code.”

But some school districts in Virginia have already rejected them.

“School districts have the power to decide if their current policies fulfill the recommendations in the guidance language from the Department of Education and they also have the right to reject those guidelines,” said Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition Director Danny Clawson, who was arrested during last month’s meeting.

The School Board’s Chairman Brent Hudson addressed the recent incidents at the end of the meeting.

“Easy to see that everyone here is passionate, one way or the other, for whatever opinion that you have,” added Hudson. “We may disagree but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect you and it doesn’t mean that I don’t hear you.”

It’s still unclear how these policies will be enforced by the state - if at all. Some school officials tell WDBJ7 they’re waiting for clearer guidance from the state education department in that area.