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Loudoun School Board votes against adding LGBTQ protections to employment policy

Loudouners rally ahead of School Board meeting urging the board to add LGBTQ protections to its policies.Times-Mirror/Sydney Kashiwagi
After Loudoun residents voiced strong convictions on a School Board decision whether to extend protections to all its employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the board declined Tuesday to add the protected characteristics to its equal employment policy.

The vote was 4-5.

Leading up to the meeting, the policy debate had sparked a divide between School Board members, the community, the American Civil Liberties Union and local lawmakers over whether the board had the legal authority and obligation to add protection against harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ employees to its policies.

More than two dozen local lawyers, Loudoun County Public Schools parents, faculty and students voiced support and opposition to the policy change. Some argued the protected characteristics would help students and staff come out of the shadows, while others warned the board about the legal repercussions LCPS could face in doing so.

“My LGBT colleagues deserve these protections,” 10-year LCPS teacher Andrea Weiskopf said. “The ability of Loudoun to keep and hire qualified staff will be impacted if you refuse to show that you value all students and staff.”

Chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee Will Estrada asked the board to “punt”on the issue and cautioned them from taking action on an issue still being decided on by the Virginia Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court is considering a case involving Fairfax County School District’s nondiscrimination policy.

“If you wait we’ll have guidance from the courts,” Estrada said. “You can save our money for teachers who have pay raises, for school buses to build our schools and not pay … lawyers.”

The School Board’s dilemma on its equal employment policy follows a similar trend of schools around the country trying to figure out how to accommodate both their LGBTQ students and staff. State legislatures, federal district courts and the government have provided different guidance on policies that could protect them. A policy brought forth by the Obama administration that advises public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identification was mentioned several times Tuesday. The proposal before the Loudoun School Board was not related to bathroom usage.

Ahead of the vote, some School Board members said it was their moral obligation to protect staff who feared for their positions by coming out as LGBTQ. Others agreed with Estrada, saying they needed to punt on the issue in order to avoid legal battles before any higher court ruling.

School Board member Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who brought forward the amendment to add the protective language to their policy, read letters the board had received for and against the change. Some letters thanked her for proposing the amendment, while others sharply criticized her.

“School board ultra liberal Brenda Sheridan moved to hijack the public school system to spend millions of tax dollars to promote the transgender sexual practices agenda,” Sheridan said, reading a letter she had received.

“That’s right, I moved to protect a group and a community from what I just read,” Sheridan said after reading the letter. “To be able to go to work and go to school and be part of our community without fear of rejection, harassment and discrimination. I stand by, I see you, I hear you, I speak for you, and I may not have a majority with me tonight, but I will continue to use my voice and my position to stand with you.”

Sheridan also told the board she had spoken to representatives from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s (D) office and had walked away “assured” the state’s constitution provided them with the authority as a School Board to add the language to its policy.

School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) argued it was simply not the board’s job to “create protected classes.”

“I think it would be prudent for this board to punt as one speaker put it and delay making any changes to our policy until the Supreme Court decisions are made then we review our policies to ensure that we’re complying with state and federal law,’ DeKenipp said.

New board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said he agreed with DeKenipp.

“In the several months when the Supreme Court comes down and has a finding in that court case, it’s either going to force us to change the policy or force us to add to the policy,” Morse said. “I’m not willing to change that policy right now while we’re waiting for the state and the Supreme Court to make a decision.”

After Sheridan’s original amendment failed 4-5, with board members Morse, DeKenipp, Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) opposed, the board instead agreed in a unanimous vote to add a paragraph proposed by Hornberger stating that they recognized and valued “the diversity of the students and border community it serves and encourages diversity within the workforce.”

Following the School Board’s vote, a group of LCPS teachers who had stayed to hear the board’s decision walked out dismayed.

“I’m disappointed in the School Board for their decision tonight. I felt like they voted the way they did because of a lack of courage,” LCPS teacher Jenny Wolfe told the Times-Mirror after the vote.

Wolfe said the policy would have sent the right message to her fellow LGBTQ teachers and community.

”As it is now … our gay and lesbian colleagues are scared and they don’t have a voice” she added, fighting off tears.

Comments


FredSanford has got it right that this is a state level issue, not a district level issue. The protection is already there for people on equal employment opportunities. No one has problems with people living their own lifestyles, just don’t try to cram it down other people’s throat.


Once comment here states that a class will be given at the Ashburn Library on “learning Gender Identity”. Let me save you all the time and expense. You are either male of female. class dismissed.


DD, that is obviously LTM’s goal: cut down on intelligent comments that refute their point of view.


SGP, it is frustrating and it cuts down on intelligent comments because I don’t want to spell out a well crafted comment to have it vaporize.  5-6 sentences are my limit now.


@FredSanford

“Imagine if there was a request to LCPS for special protections for Christians? Muslims? Atheists? White People? Black People? Chinese People? Mexican People?”

You do realize that all of these things are ALREADY protected. The protected classes include religion, race, and ethnicity. I’m very unclear as to how this group is looking for “special treatment,” when they are literally asking for exactly the same treatment as afforded to other groups. Which is, to be considered fairly as viable candidates for employment regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

If we “don’t discriminate,” then why is it so hard to add this?


Exactly DD.

LTM claims it censors comments that are off topic.  I mistakenly post a comment to the wrong article (cookie issue) and LTM lets an obviously off topic comment through.  I shred an argument by an opponent and that comment never sees the light of day.

If LTM were a public body, we would have lost count of their First Amendment court losses by now.


New chairman with Morse and already seeing improvements with the school board…


Interesting that LTM blocks hyperlinks in blog posts…until it is a pro-LGBT link.

Can we get a clear description of LTM’s hypocritical oath?


I would like to thank Brenda Sheridan, Beth Huck, Tom Marshall, and Joy Maloney for standing up last night and supporting our LGBTQ community. I invite everyone to join us at the Ashburn Library on Valentine’s Eve from 7:30-9pm. Together We Will Learn Gender Identity with Connie Rice from Equality Virginia’s Transgender Advocacy Speakers Bureau.

I think it is great that the board “recognizes and values the diversity of the students and broader community it serves and encourages diversity within its workforce.” However, after reading a recent op-ed by Mr. LaRock I would disagree that you encourage diversity. You have been told that employees of the Loudoun County School District are afraid to display pictures of their spouse for fear of being fired and you have only solidified that fear.

You say adding this paragraph “is an opportunity to say more … that we hire because of merit because we want the best people working in our schools,” but you are also saying that our LGBTQ community does not have merits. An LGBTQ person listening to last night’s public comments would not feel safe and supported by Loudoun County.

My son is in Kindergarten and a few weeks ago he asked me on our way to school if a person was a man or a woman. I asked him what he thought and his was response was that he did not know. I then asked him if it mattered and what makes boys and girls different. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s gender is or what their sexual identity is unless you want to ask them out on a date.

Trans people are not trying to sneak into our bathrooms to have their way with our children. I have been unable to find any credible, documented cases of a Transgender person committing sexual assault. This fear is unfounded. However “One in Two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted.” This is reality and we need to help those who are at highest risk.

Harry S. Truman said that “A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members”. I feel that Loudoun County is failing our weakest members. We are failing our LGBTQ community at a time when we should be standing up and screaming our support for them.


THANK YOU LCPS!!!!

If the ACLU is seeking LGBTQ special protections, they need to take up the issue at the state level and not at a school district ad-hoc level.

Imagine if there was a request to LCPS for special protections for Christians? Muslims? Atheists? White People? Black People? Chinese People? Mexican People?

LCPS is not the enforcement arm of special interest seeking adhoc rights across the state. If the ACLU wants LGBTQ rights to be enforced by school districts, they need to drive down to Richmond.


I’m shocked.  Common sense prevailed.


This was disappointing. The idea that the majority needs protection from the minority is completely backwards.
As for those speakers who threatened lots of money lost on lawsuits, why don’t they just decide to not sue? It is that simple. They are using the threat of a lawsuit as a bully tactic.


Bravo to the school board for not caving to special interest.


Jenny Wolfe has it backwards. The Board showed great courage in bucking the political correctness of the shrill minority and siding with common sense.

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