The Loudoun County School Board passed its 2019 legislative program 6-1 to include supporting statewide LGBT nondiscrimination protections and expanding gun-free zones to all School Board-owned property.
The legislative program includes legislative positions that legislators can use to support or oppose any legislation.
One of the legislative action items in the program is the expansion of gun-free zones to include all School Board owned property, such as the LCPS Administrative Building in Ashburn.
The item came recommended by the Legislative and Policy Committee that drafted the program. Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) moved to remove the item, but her efforts ultimately failed with all six remaining board members — with Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District) absent — opposing her motion.
Rose said she knew her motion would fail, but wanted to go on the record against extending the gun-free zones. She said she knows it is a sensitive issue -- and noted she has experience being the victim of gun violence -- but said research into gun-free zones is inconclusive, which is why she could not support the item.
When the legislative program was presented as an information item last month, Turgeon also spoke out against extending the gun-free zones to buildings like the Administrative Building, because it is not used for educational purposes, and board members sometimes have to interact with angry members of the public.
Rose reiterated this argument at the Nov. 13 meeting.
“This is something that makes people feel good to pass, to be supportive of, but in actuality, it doesn’t actually make anybody in this building any safer from mentally ill people who have a gun and that are bent on doing something horrific, or someone who is intent on doing something awful and harming others or killing others with a gun,” Rose said.
Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District) said he was voting against removing the item, because after speaking to employees in several LCPS remote facilities to hear their opinion on extending the gun-free zones, he found most employees were more afraid of a fellow employee becoming angry and using a gun against coworkers. Morse said he preferred coworkers not have easy access to guns.
“I was somewhat surprised that the vast majority of people I spoke to were in favor of having a gun-free zone in the facility in which they worked,” Morse said. “... Because those are the people most affected, because those are the people who have the most to lose there in a remote site, I’m going to default to their preference, and I’m going to support leaving the language in the legislative policy.”
Rose also moved to remove an item that would allow LCPS to use any unspent allocated funds. She said that allowing LCPS to keep unspent funds removes an important check and balance to ensure LCPS proposes the most efficient, needs-based budget possible. She thought it could create more tension with the Board of Supervisors.
Morse agreed, saying that returning unspent funds does not preclude the School Board to ask the Board of Supervisors for money to fund additional initiatives.
“If we come back year after year with a surplus and we keep that surplus, that would not bode well for the final reconciliation at the end of the year when we [receive] our budget from the Board of Supervisors,” Morse said.
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) disagreed, saying that having to return unspent funds creates a “use it or lose it” mentality. Rose’s motion to remove the keeping of unspent funds from the legislative action items list failed 2-5, with only Rose and Morse in favor and Turgeon absent.
Joy Maloney (Broad Run District) moved to include adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes against discrimination for all public employees to the list of legislative action items.
Maloney said a bill of this nature has passed the Senate before but gotten stuck in the House of Delegates.
She said given Attorney General Mark Herring’s (D) past decision that school systems have the authority to add protected classes to employee nondiscrimination policies, and given the level of public interest since the board voted 4-5 against adding the protections in January 2017, she’d like LCPS lobbyists to keep track of and push for this legislation.
Prior to considering the legislative program, the board heard from four advocates speaking in favor of LGBT protections for LCPS employees. Advocates brought up the high suicide rates of LGBT youth, which could perhaps be remedied by having LGBT role models among staff, and having LGBT protections would make LCPS more attractive to potential employees.
The motion to add LGBT discrimination protections for public employees to the action items passed 4-3, with Rose, Morse and Hornberger opposed and Turgeon absent.
The legislative program also includes giving local jurisdictions more control over setting the school calendar and allowing School Board members to make just one disclosure about conflicts of interests that will serve for as the disclosure for one year.
The School Board approved a motion by Hornberger to request an opinion from Herring on the issue of an annual disclosure to help legislators.
The board also approved a motion by Maloney to have the Legislative and Policy Committee look into adding an item to have state revenue help with the construction and renovation of schools to match a similar item put forth by the Board of Supervisors in its 2019 legislative program.
The full legislative program passed with Rose as the only dissenting vote and with Turgeon absent.
After the board’s vote, the legislative program was sent to state senators and delegates representing Loudoun. The delegation and School Board will have a more comprehensive discussion over the program at the Legislative Breakfast Dec. 7.