The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) board finalized new regulations on July 1 that dictate how the school system should handle transgender and gender non-conforming students when it comes to names, the use of bathrooms, and other questions related to gender identity.
The new regulations, which aren’t on the school board’s website but were published online by the employee group FCPS Pride, instruct schools to accept a student and parent or guardian’s “assertion of a student’s gender non-conforming or transgender status when there is…evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of the student’s core identity.”
Under the regulations, transgender and gender non-conforming students should be referred to on a daily basis by their preferred name and gender pronouns, and they can use bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity, though a court order or updated birth certificate is required to make changes to a student’s permanent records.
FCPS Pride, which is composed of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, parents of LGBT students, and community members, expressed support for the new regulations.
“It is clear that FCPS aims to create welcoming schools for trans and GNC [gender non-conforming] students, while respecting parents’ right and responsibility to be involved in the upbringing of their children,” FCPS Pride founder and president Robert Rigby said in a press release issued July 4. “We note particularly the commitment to facilitate communication between students and their parents, while respecting the confidentiality of the family.”
FCPS staff started drafting regulations regarding the school system’s treatment of issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming students after the school board added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in May 2015.
The school system’s nondiscrimination policy, known as P1450, prohibits FCPS from excluding or discriminating against students, employees and applicants for employment on the basis of age, race, sex, religion, disability or other identity-related factors.
This wasn’t the first time that the school board has tweaked the policy, as it also recently approved the addition of sexual orientation.
While the revised nondiscrimination policy went into effect immediately, FCPS staff took about a year to develop specific guidelines telling school officials how to handle issues such as student names, records and facility use for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
Allowing that the length of time staff took to finalize regulations is “a little bit unusual,” FCPS School Board Chair Patricia Hynes says that the complexity of the subject called for more time.
“The law is a little unsettled as far as what a school system’s legal obligations are,” Hynes said. “Staff had to get to a point where they felt like they could write a regulation that would not only adhere to our school board policy, but also keep us on the right side of the law.”
The new regulations allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, but it also provides the option for any student who wants greater privacy to use a separate area, such as a unisex bathroom or a nearby stall with a door, or a different changing schedule instead.
Student participation in activities, athletics and clubs will also be based on their preferred gender identity, though activities governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) are subject to current VHSL policies.
The regulations also state that, when students make their school aware of their transgender or gender non-conforming identity, the school will convene a support team to develop an individualized plan for providing “safe and equitable” access to all school facilities and activities.
The support team, which is also available to address issues raised by the student or their family, can consist of parents or guardians, teachers, administrators, school counselors, and other appropriate staff members. The student and parents or guardians can offer input on their specific team members and invite outside physical and mental health professionals or advocates.
The FCPS school board’s addition of gender identity as a protected class under its nondiscrimination policy has raised some concerns, particularly considering that some U.S. states like North Carolina have passed laws requiring that individuals use bathroom facilities that correspond with the biological sex listed on their birth certificate.
According to a June 10, 2015 article in The Washington Post, security had to escort some community members out of a school board meeting on the subject after they became disruptive, and some board members criticized their colleagues for what they saw as a last-minute vote on the proposed policy amendment.
Though the new policy has now been official for over a year, Hynes says that there are still people in the community who believe it shouldn’t have been extended to gender identity. While she disagrees with that sentiment, the school board chair says that FCPS needs to take community member concerns seriously.
“There are always people who have a difference in opinion about what we’re doing,” Hynes said. “There are people in the community, particularly parents, who have questions about what it might mean for their children…[We] have an obligation to answer those questions so that parents have the information they need to understand what’s going on in their kids’ schools.”