The first priority of the new School Board: sneer at human rights

The very first action taken by the newly elected Loudoun County School Board was this:

Regarding the Virginia Human Rights Act:

“I move to amend the Board’s previously adopted Legislative Program by removing the recommendation to expand the protected classifications contained in the Virginia Human Rights Act, Code of Virginia §2.2-3900 and §2.2-3901, to include gender orientation and gender identity and to further amend the Code of Virginia §22.1-78 to allow local school boards to similarly expand the protected classifications contained in local school board policies and regulations and that Staff be directed to make such other changes to the Legislative Program as to conform to the Program language of this motion.”

[from page 5 of the adopted Legislative Program]

Motion: Mr. Kuesters
Second: Mr. Fox

Vote: 6-3-0 (Mr. Reed, Mrs. Bergel, and Mrs. Sheridan opposed)

The only reason for initiating such an action is ideological, and the idea in play is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender and gender variant youth are not deserving of having their human rights protected. The Wisconsin School District that was the subject of the film Bullied found out the hard and expensive way that this is not a good position for school boards to take. I hate to being up money when this is a fundamental moral issue, but unfortunately that’s the only language some people seem to understand.

Keep in mind that this is not a sin of omission, but of commission; the six board members voting in favor did not just fail to do something they should do – make sure that ALL students and employees in the Loudoun County Public School system are protected from discrimination – they went out of their way to actively do the opposite. Keep in mind also that the item they went out of their way to delete was not associated with any cost, and has nothing to do with anything conceivably related to “reform.” The item was nothing but a recommendation to the General Assembly with no actual force of policy – in stark contrast to the action taken just days ago by Virginia’s Board of Juvenile Justice. This agency is purportedly without the authority to set its own policies with regard to nondiscrimination, but chose to do so anyway – because its first priority is the health and safety of the children in its care.

When asked for the reasoning behind his motion, new board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said “The board members supporting this motion are essentially saying that we don’t think this is a School Board issue.” Really? He doesn’t think that discrimination against students and employees in the school system is a school board issue? Let’s leave employment discrimination out of it for a moment and just consider the kids. He doesn’t think that the absence of clear policies that prohibit the bullying of kids in school is a school board issue? The problem may well be ignorance. Or it may be something else. Here is the problem framed by educators who see it every day:

Some educators are wary of raising issues relating to sexual orientation or gender identity because the subject is seen as politically or religiously charged. While they would promptly take action in the case of bullying based on race, religion or ethnicity, they may hesitate when bullying is based on sexual orientation or the perception that a student is gay.
– From the Bullied discussion guide

“They may hesitate.” Because, incredibly, there are people who claim for themselves a right to abuse children who are, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender variant. As much as some might want to think that zero tolerance for bullying (or employment discrimination, for that matter) “for any reason” is a sufficient remedy, the truth is that there will always be bullies who falsely believe that their own reasons for the behavior are special and exempt. The fact that they are not exempt has to be spelled out.

Whatever the six new board members believed they were doing, their active removal of this recommendation objectively sends the message to those listening for such dog whistle signals that they now have implicit permission to escalate actions motivated by anti-gay animus; the new school board won’t care.

I did not have any pre-conceived notions about this new board. The new members campaigned on, and have otherwise been praised for early indications of, “reform.” If they fail to stick to that agenda and instead start making forays into morally indefensible “culture wars,” it will indicate that they made promises to special interest groups in secret. That is not a good way to start their term.

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16 Responses to The first priority of the new School Board: sneer at human rights

  1. Carol Turpin says:

    It’s ON, people. I will not accept this kind of enshrined, legalized bigotry in my home. We need to contact those 6 idiots — blow out their phone lines, their emails — and tell them this is NOT how we live in Loudoun!

  2. Carol Turpin says:

    These bigots clearly have no desire to be public servants, nor can they be called representatives – because the LGBTQ students and staff whose rights they have just stripped away live in their districts, in their neighborhoods, and attend school with or teach their children.
    PLEASE HELP! Flood their phones and emails with your outrage! Let them know that this is UNACCEPTABLE and that they MUST restore these protections immediately! Here is how to reach them.

    All Board Members

    The bigoted Six:

    Eric Hornberger
    Ashburn District

    Jill Turgeon
    Vice Chairman
    Blue Ridge District

    Debbie Rose
    Algonkian District

    Kevin Kuesters
    Broad Run District

    Jeff Morse
    Dulles District

    Bill Fox
    Leesburg District

  3. David says:

    Carol, we do need to communicate with them, and let them know that this sort of action does not represent the values of the community. We should also thank the three members who did not go along with this.

    It’s important to be clear on what did and did not happen, though. The action the board took did not change any school policy, so it’s not accurate to say that ‘protections were stripped away.’ Technically, LGBT students do not have any protections. LCPS employees do, because the previous BoS updated the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity Statement to protect county employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In either case, nothing has changed. What the board did was to NOT ask the Loudoun Delegation to the General Assembly to change the Virginia Human Rights law to be inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity (I’m not sure what the term ‘gender orientation’ means or where it came from, but presumably they mean sexual orientation).

    Although this action doesn’t materially change any policy, it does send the message that this board doesn’t consider the health and safety of LGBT students to be “a school board issue,” which is frankly idiotic, and doesn’t understand or care that discrimination and bullying on the basis of orientation and gender is a serious problem. And that is unacceptable. Thank you for taking action.

  4. Carol Turpin says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, you’re right: how on earth the safety of students (of any stripe) is “not a school board issue” completely escapes me.

  5. David says:

    I also think that we need to take the approach of education. My guess is that all six of the new members are not uniformly motivated by anti-gay animus. Probably there are a couple of ideological ringleaders, and others who just don’t know any better than to go along with something they don’t really understand the implications and consequences of. In communicating with board members, we need to give them the opportunity and information they need to do the right thing.

    For one thing, the fact that the General Assembly refuses to correct Virginia human rights law to include all humans emphatically does not reflect public opinion. Did you know that 87% of Virginians say that public employees should be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, for example? Yet an employment nondiscrimination bill that would reflect this reality can’t get through the legislature. Virginians, by and large, are not bigots – it only looks that way. What I encounter over and over again is the assumption by ordinary Virginians that these protections already exist, and that’s the reason the absence of them is not an issue that motivates voters. We still have a lot of education to do.

    Here is a link to the most recent survey on what LGBT students experience, from GLSEN:

  6. Carol Turpin says:

    Let me know how I can help with that education effort. I have gay friends; and my children have friends who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or have two moms — and it has never occured to them to think that this is unusual or that the children should be treated differently. Too bad the adults are not as smart as the kids.

  7. David says: on earth the safety of students (of any stripe) is “not a school board issue” completely escapes me.

    I know; the mind boggles. They campaigned almost exclusively on fiscal issues, and that seems to be the only concern for most of them. They are not necessarily education professionals with knowledge of the law and what actually happens in schools, and will be vulnerable to misinformation from special interest groups with their own agendas. That’s why they especially need to hear from professionals in the reality-based world, and real people who are impacted.

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  9. Bill Fox says:

    Look folks. . .we are not a civil rights advocacy group. . .we are a body elected to make policy for Loudoun Schools. You won’t see us pushing Richmond to adopt laws regarding prayer in school, Bible classes or Creationism, because this is not the proper purview of a school board. Similarly, it is not the job of the school board to lobby the state to make legislative changes on controversial social issues.

    Please be assured that it is not now, nor has it been, the policy of LCPS to discriminate against students or employees based on gender orientation or gender identity, nor do we tolerate harassment or bullying of our students for any reason. If we see any evidence whatsoever that our current bullying policies are insufficient, then we will strengthen the policies to better protect ALL Loudoun children, and not simply single out members of specific groups for protection. In any event, we will handle the problem by modifying our own policies, and not by asking the state to tell us what to do.

    If anyone has further questions or concerns about this issue, feel free to contact me at, or call me at the telephone # listed above.

  10. Bill Fox says:

    BTW David, the claim that we do not understand the law or what actually goes on in schools is a bit odd. . .the board is full of teachers, former teachers (including myself) and spouses of teachers, and two attorneys. . .including myself. Back when I was still practicing, my specialty was Constitutional and civil rights law, and my first job out of law school was as an anti-discrimination investigator.

  11. David says:

    Thanks for your comment, Bill.

    In any event, we will handle the problem by modifying our own policies, and not by asking the state to tell us what to do.

    The problem is that, according to the AG at least, you are not allowed to modify your own policies without explicit action by the legislature. Obviously that is only one legal opinion; the Arlington School Board chose to set their own policy regardless, as did our own previous Board of Supervisors. Your predecessors chose instead to send a message to Richmond that they wanted the legislature to take that explicit action.

    It’s important, for reasons I’ve already stated, that school policies explicitly state that there is no exception for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. Otherwise, some people are prone to think that’s a special case, precisely because for some people it’s “controversial.” It’s not a matter of “singling out members of specific groups for protection,” it’s the opposite problem: People who feel that they can single out the members of certain groups from protection unless they are clearly told otherwise.

    I’m sure that no one on the board would argue that they want to maintain the right to discriminate against anyone, but unfortunately the action taken creates that impression. It’s very much a school board issue to make sure there are no impediments to protecting LCPS students and employees from discrimination.

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  15. mduff says:

    They just cut 35 Hispanic teachers, women, minority by cutting the 10 year old Spanish program that serves 40,000 elementary school students. Any questions? The only casualties of the 2012-2013 budget.

  16. David says:

    Thank you, mduff. Another profoundly stupid, short-sighted action that can’t help looking like it was designed to pander to ideologues. Now the faculty looks even less like the student body than it did before.