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