FAIRFAX, Va. (WJLA) — This Thursday, Fairfax County parents are planning to rally outside the Fairfax school board meeting to call on school board members to vote against a policy that would suspend students for “malicious misgendering.”
“This school board has got to go,” said Maria Sherwell. "This makes Loudoun [County School Board] look calm."
Sherwell is a mom to three kids and she says the Fairfax County School Board is pushing political policies without parental input.
“I feel and I'm not alone, that their role is to take control of our children and push parents out of the room,” she said. “It moves their agenda forward.”
Sherwell is frustrated that her school board is expected to renew a policy that would suspend students for up to five days if they don’t use their peer’s preferred gender pronouns – or what FCPS calls “malicious misgendering.”
"My initial concern was that this is kind of like a compelled speech," she said. "It is requiring children to say something that they may or may not be comfortable with. I worry that this is a violation of their First Amendment. And in addition, for students who have a religious obligation or religious ethic that this is something they cannot and would not do, can they be punished for that? I also find that the idea of malicious misgendering is pretty subjective. I don't feel like it's adequately defined and I think that it leaves too much room for a faulty punishment. [This policy says] you must refer to me as this or you'll be punished. I don't see the difference between that and 'call me King'. And if you don't, you're going to be punished for that."
On Tuesday, WJLA reached out to all of the Fairfax County School Board members for interviews to discuss the policy. None of them agreed to do interviews.
On Monday, WJLA reached out to FCPS for an interview with the Superintendent.
FCPS declined to talk on camera, instead, providing a statement saying, “this update relates to the purposeful and deliberate misgendering of a student aimed at causing harm. Currently, this applies to middle and high school students only.”
Jeff Hoffman, a Fairfax County father, says schools need to focus on addressing learning loss which was further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The schools have a lot of work to do,” said Hoffman. “The gender political conversation needs to go to the sidelines. Let’s learn to read and write. This has nothing to do with anti-transgender. I am first and foremost an advocate for everybody's freedom of choice and liberty, right, regardless of culture, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. So I want to make that very clear. This is about the parents in Fairfax County."
Hoffman is requesting the school board to do two things.
"Delay your vote on the Student Rights & Responsibility regulation and host an "in-person" parent townhall or listening session to discuss the language," he said. "Publish a public report that highlights all the "gender-expansive" additions, changes, and budget investments like Family Life Education you have adopted since the passage of mandates from Virginia State Senate transgender students a policy legislation in 2020."
Meanwhile, many in Fairfax County’s LGBTQ+ community feel this policy is needed.
“Being misgendered can be traumatic for trans kids,” said Robert Rigby, the FCPS Pride Co-President. “Being misgendered over and over deliberately which is what this policy is about is traumatizing to anyone.”
Rigby is a recently retired Fairfax County teacher.
“All children, all staff, all families should feel like they belong in our schools, and this a way of our school board saying transgender and gender-expansive students belong in our schools,” said Rigby. "No one should be bullied. They’re saying to potential bullies: don’t bully in this fashion. For trans kids they’re saying we want to protect you, we want you to belong, to feel welcome in our schools. I think when people think about this and realize what’s going on everyone will be on board. Who could be in favor of bullying.”
The policy can be viewed here on page 21.
The policy would also allow schools to suspend students for "deadnaming." The policy defines "deadnaming" as "when someone, intentionally or not, refers to a person who is transgender or gender-expansive by a name other than their own chosen name."
Sherwell feels the Fairfax County School Board is overstepping.
"I think it's a parent's right," she said. "I think it's a parent's job to talk to their kids about those moral subjects. I don't think it's the role of the school to teach children what to think. I think it's the role of the school to teach children how to think."