Loudoun School Board votes against adding LGBTQ protections to 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.
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