Richmond Times-Dispatch

Rich­mond School Board ap­proves stu­dent code of con­duct with new LGBTQ-friendly poli­cies

- BY JUSTIN MAT­TINGLY

The Rich­mond School Board has ap­proved a new pol­icy aimed at cut­ting down on the dis­crim­i­na­tion faced by LGBTQ stu­dents.

The new Stu­dent Code of Re­spon­si­ble Ethics, adopted Mon­day night, says that stu­dents “must not be kept out of ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause of gen­der (ex­cept as al­lowed un­der Ti­tle IX), color, race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity or gen­der ex­pres­sion” while also say­ing that the en­force­ment of the school district’s dress code should be con­sis­tent for all stu­dents, no mat­ter their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der ex­pres­sion, among other things.

The new poli­cies take ef­fect next school year.

Gen­der iden­tity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der ex­pres­sion weren’t pre­vi­ously in the poli­cies. The new poli­cies fall short of what a lo­cal ad­vo­cacy group had sought — re­quests that in­cluded more gen­derneu­tral bath­rooms — but the school sys­tem’s lead­er­ship vowed to fur­ther study the is­sue over the next year and to re­port back to the board.

“Our LGBTQ+ stu­dents face dis­crim­i­na­tion and chal­lenges ev­ery day ... and we lit­er­ally have kids con­sid­er­ing tak­ing their lives be­cause who they are is un­der at­tack ev­ery day,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Ja­son Kam­ras said in an

in­ter­view. “That’s not the school sys­tem I want us to be.”

The pro­pos­als came for­ward through work be­tween Liz Do­err, the School Board’s vice chair­woman and 1st District rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and Side by Side, a Rich­mond­based ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion. They were ap­proved on a 7-2 vote by the board Mon­day.

Kenya Gib­son of the 3rd District and Jonathan Young of the 4th District voted against the code of con­duct, but Gib­son said be­fore the vote that she sup­ports the changes for LGBTQ stu­dents.

“Our LGBTQ+ youth de­serve to feel af­firmed, re­spected and sup­ported, and these poli­cies help set the tone for this cul­ture across the district,” Do­err said.

About 8% of U.S. high school stu­dents are les­bian, gay or bi­sex­ual, ac­cord­ing to a study from the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. More than 40% of those stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the CDC, have se­ri­ously con­sid­ered sui­cide.

The num­bers are worse in the Rich­mond area.

Ted Lewis, Side by Side’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said more than 60% of lo­cal stu­dents sur­veyed by the or­ga­ni­za­tion said they had thought about killing them­selves in the past six months.

Lewis called Rich­mond Pub­lic Schools’ new poli­cies “a big step for the city.”

The new poli­cies in Rich­mond are more ex­ten­sive than the ones in sur­round­ing school dis­tricts. Hanover and Hen­rico coun­ties have poli­cies in their codes of con­duct out­law­ing bul­ly­ing based

About 8% of U.S. high school stu­dents are les­bian, gay or bi­sex­ual, ac­cord­ing to a study from the CDC. More than 40% of them, ac­cord­ing to the CDC, have se­ri­ously con­sid­ered sui­cide.

on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and other char­ac­ter­is­tics, but don’t go as far as Rich­mond in spec­i­fy­ing nondis­crim­i­na­tion in ac­tiv­i­ties and dress code. The Ch­ester­field County Pub­lic Schools stu­dent code of con­duct does not men­tion sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

“We’re ex­cited that RPS is tak­ing the step to say: ‘We rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of the di­ver­sity within our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion and that LGBTQ+ stu­dents are a key part of our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, and we’re go­ing to do what we can to en­sure that they feel safe and af­firmed in our schools,’” Lewis said.

While sup­port­ive of the new poli­cies, Lewis said more can be done.

Side by Side has asked RPS to al­low stu­dents to use cho­sen names and pro­nouns. A cho­sen name is what a per­son wishes to be called and is dif­fer­ent from a le­gal first name. Trans­gen­der peo­ple com­monly choose a name that iden­ti­fies with their gen­der iden­tity.

The code of con­duct ap­proved by the School Board on Mon­day does not in­clude a com­mon name pol­icy. The RPS ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would in­stead de­velop a School Board pol­icy — a dif­fer­ent set of stan­dards — for stu­dents to choose a name.

Linda Owen, the School Board’s 9th District rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said it’s im­por­tant for the school sys­tem to have a cho­sen name pol­icy in the wake of a case last year in West Point, east of Rich­mond, in which a teacher re­fused to use a trans­gen­der stu­dent’s new pro­noun. The teacher was ul­ti­mately fired.

“That sort of was a wake-up call,” Owen said.

Side by Side is push­ing for more gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms in city schools. Lewis said trans­gen­der stu­dents are cur­rently be­ing asked to use a sin­gle-use re­stroom — com­monly re­served for teach­ers — or a nurse’s bath­room.

“No one should be frowned upon for us­ing their pre­ferred bath­room,” said Lo­gan Cox, a stu­dent at Bin­ford Mid­dle School.

Trans­gen­der stu­dent bath­room ac­cess in Vir­ginia made na­tional news in re­cent years when Gavin Grimm, then a stu­dent at Glouces­ter County High School, sued his county’s school board for bar­ring him from us­ing the boys re­stroom. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which didn’t rule on it, and lost mo­men­tum when Grimm grad­u­ated from high school.

RPS said in a pre­sen­ta­tion to the School Board on Mon­day night that it would as­sess its fa­cil­i­ties next school year and “make up­dates to en­sure gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms are in place di­vi­sion­wide in 2020-21.”

Said Kam­ras: “It’s some­thing we need to do, we just need to fig­ure out how to do it. It’s just go­ing to take us a lit­tle bit of time.”

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