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Hanover School Board passes policy to give board final say over each transgender student's access to bathroom

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The Hanover County School Board voted 5-2 to adopt a policy that will require transgender students to submit a written request to school administration asking for access to the schools’ facilities that align with the students’ gender identities. The School Board will have final say in the decision.

The policy suggests that students and their parents submit documents including students’ disciplinary or criminal records, among other personal documents.

Hanover School Board Chairman John F. Axselle III talks about his vote.

Before the vote to pass the policy, Chickahominy District representative Bob Hundley suggested amending it to strike the portion related to what he called a “criminal background check.”

Only three board members voted to amend the policy to strike the language about criminal records: Hundley, Vice Chair Bob May and Ola J. Hawkins.

“Keep in mind that if we’re considering where, for example, a biological boy is going to be allowed access to the girls bathroom and there is [criminal activity] in their background that relates to this type of situation, we [should] know about that,” said board member George E. Sutton. “I think other people want to know about that.”

Hundley said he wants to work with interest groups going forward to make the policy better.

Although Hundley’s amendment did not pass, he still voted to approve the policy as is. He said that while the policy is not perfect, “We owe it to our faculty, staff and the students to have a policy going into the school year, and that’s primarily why I’m supporting it.”

The two dissenting votes were Hawkins, who represents the Ashland District, and Johnny Redd, who represents the Mechanicsville District. “I’m sympathetic to the needs of our students on each side of this issue and sympathetic to the need for a policy that will protect our teachers and administrators from exposure to lawsuits,” Redd said. “But I am not in favor of the policy that has been presented here.”

School Board Chair John Axselle said in an interview with the Times-Dispatch, “If I’m gonna be letting a biological male or female, in either direction OK, I would want to make sure that we know ahead of time that they don’t have any ulterior intent. Our overall concern truly is all the children.”

Last week, the Hanover NAACP called on Axselle to resign. Axselle said in an interview Tuesday night that he does not plan to resign.

“I’m here to serve the children. That’s all I want. I don’t want anything else. I’ve been doing it for 27 years,” he said. “If folks are upset with me and want me to resign, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry. But I’ve tried to do my best for the kids. That’s all I want.”

Before the 7 p.m. meeting, the organization Equality Virgina held a news conference to “spotlight the harm that will continue to be done to students if this policy is adopted.”

Grace Zweckbronner, a transgender student attending Hanover schools , spoke at the news conference and described the policy as disturbing.

“Transgender and nonbinary students just want to use the bathroom in peace. We go to school like every other kid, we study like every other kid and we are put through multiple different steps and jumps to use the bathroom,” Zweckbronner said. “This is targeted bullying, and it is coming from our School Board. Here we are having to defend ourselves because these people are voting on a disgustingly invasive policy that will make multiple things impossible for trans students and are overall just gross, not caring that literal children will have to deal with these consequences.”

In addition to the language in the policy regarding criminal records, it also suggests that students include in their request to use the bathroom signed statements from the students’ doctors or therapists “verifying that the student has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and/or that the student consistently and authentically expresses a binary gender identity.”

The implementation of the policy comes almost one year since the deadline by which the board was legally required to adopt an appropriate policy regarding the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students. A state law required local school boards to implement policies consistent with state guidelines by the first day of the 2021 school year.

The model policy published by the state education department states: “Access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students.”

The legislative mandate, however, is not tied to any state funding, so the only teeth in the state funding is that it could lead to civil litigation.

The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit in December on behalf of five parents of transgender students. The case is ongoing.

abryson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6945

Twitter: @AnnaBryson18

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