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Franklin County School Board meeting sparks heated debate over transgender student policies, Critical Race Theory

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – Around one hundred people packed the Franklin County School Board meeting on Monday night to make their voices heard on policies relating to transgender students and Critical Race Theory.

The Franklin County School Board said it will not adopt a new transgender policy.

That’s because the district’s discrimination policies already protect transgender student rights, according to the school board. The board said it met with lawyers who confirmed transgender students are covered under the existing policies.

About 100 people packed inside for the heated debate, more than 20 spoke and dozens more lined up outside for a chance to address the board.

The majority spoke out against transgender policies, but several spoke in favor.

School officials said, by law, they are required to have policies that protect transgender students, including using the bathroom of their choice. This is not just a state or local law, it’s a federal law too. If the district rejects these protections for transgender students, it would likely face lawsuits and could lose state and federal funding. State funding makes up 38% of the school’s budget.

The board is working on procedures to determine a student’s consistent gender identity. Guidance counselors and administrators will have conversations with students and parents, and if a student has a consistent gender identity that’s different than the one they were assigned at birth, that student will be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice.

Officials said there will not be co-ed bathrooms, and kids will not be allowed to just say they have a different gender identity to go in the opposite sex’s bathroom or stay in a room with the opposite sex on overnight trips.

“We’re just trying to do the best we can to take care of our children. I know that’s what we as a board want, it’s what the public wants. We’re all working towards the same goal, we may just have different ways to get there,” said Julie Nix, chair of the Franklin County School Board.

“We have about 6,100 students. You know and I know every student is unique,” said Superintendent Dr. Bernice Cobbs. “Well knowing that, that’s why I think it’s important if a student has a need they express those needs and we try to meet those needs beyond transgender – any of our students.”

The Virginia Department of Education will oversee the enforcement of this law. When asked what happens if a system rejects portions of the model policies or completely disregards them they said, “As with all other laws that govern K-12 education as enacted by the Virginia General Assembly, local school boards are required to follow § 22.1-23.3 ‘Treatment of transgender students; policies.’ The VDOE stands ready to provide additional guidance to assist school divisions comply with the Code of Virginia.”

During Monday night’s meeting, the school board also discussed Critical Race Theory.

The board explained that it does not teach Critical Race Theory, Franklin County students are taught culturally responsive teaching and cultural competence. This kind of training has been going on for decades in the district, officials said, just with a different name.

The board said COVID-19 vaccines will not be required for the upcoming school year.

The board is also holding a special meeting about their mask policy on July 26 at 6 p.m.


About the Authors:

Samantha Smith joined WSLS 10’s award-winning digital team as a digital content producer in July 2018.

Lindsey joined the WSLS 10 team as a reporter in February 2019 and is thrilled to call Roanoke her new home!