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Amherst County School Board votes to retain existing transgender policy, rejects Governor's model

Amherst County School Board (Credit: Hayden Robertson, WSET)
Amherst County School Board (Credit: Hayden Robertson, WSET)
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After having a month to go over their current transgender policy and over Governor Glenn Youngkin's model policy, the Amherst County School Board voted to not adopt the Governor's policy and keep their own.

Below is the Amherst County Public School's policy, which was last revised on August 11, 2022:

"The Amherst County School Board is committed to nondiscrimination with regard to membership in any category protected under federal or Virginia law. This commitment prevails in all of its policies and practices concerning staff, students, educational programs and services, and individuals and entities with whom the Board does business."

According to Governor Youngkin, his policies would empower parents while prohibiting discrimination; it also directs schools to increase parental notification requirements and roll back some current accommodations involving gender identity.

During Thursday night's meeting, the school board heard from five community members during public comment before having a discussion and voting on what to do. Three of the community members spoke in favor of the Governor's policy and asked the board to adopt it.

"By embracing these policies in whole or in part, Amherst schools will be acknowledging the existence of transgender students and their needs and the people who are important to them," Amherst County resident Ohna McClellon said.

"It strengthens our ability to have respect for all students while giving parents the rights to make decisions with respect to their children," Amherst County resident Dawn Pool said.

David Childress, who is running for the open school board at-large seat and had children in Amherst County Schools, also came and spoke in favor of the policy. Childress told the board that he fears not adopting Youngkin's policies may have ramifications from the Commonwealth.

RELATED: Amherst County School Board meeting looks over Governor's transgender policy

"I would just like to remind the board that there are other potential issues if we don't adopt the policy," Childress said. "We could lose support from Governor Youngkin of the school division; the Attorney General's support."

After the public comment period was closed, District 5 School Board member Eric Orasi made a motion to reject the Governor's policies and keep the current Amherst County School policy. His motion was seconded by At-Large Board member Ginger Burg. School Board Chairman Chris Terry then called for the board to discuss the policies. Terry gave the floor to Amherst County Superintendent Dr. William Wells, who explained to the board and community members the advice he received from legal counsel.

"After speaking with our legal counsel, it is in the best interest of the county to keep the current policy our school has," Dr. Wells said.

But District 2 Board member Dawn Justice didn't agree. Justice said while she does agree that the Governor's policy and the current ACPS policy already align, she argued that Youngkin's policy better protects parents' rights.

"Back when Governor Northam introduced his transgender policy, I voted that we keep our current policy because of parent's rights," Justice said. "We don't keep secrets from our parents, and Governor Youngkin's policy, I think, speaks to that and is very solid."

Board member Ginger Burg says the current policy Amherst County Schools has is what's best and said parents already have rights when it comes to their children's education.

"It's written in the code of Virginia, we all have our parental rights," Burg said. I want what's best for Amherst County; our policy should reflect us and no one else."

After the discussion over the policies was closed, the board voted 6-1 to keep the current Amherst County School policy and not to adopt Governor Youngkin's policy. Board member Dawn Justice was the only one to vote against it.

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