A resolution reaffirming non-discrimination against transgender students in Virginia Beach City Public Schools sparked a heated debate Tuesday.

Over 100 members of the public signed up to speak at an evening meeting that stretched for several hours.

Jessica Owens, the school board member who authored and presented the resolution, said it shouldn’t be controversial and only makes clear the district’s existing stances and policies.

But student supporters cheered it as a measure to push back against proposed policies from the state level that they called anti-trans.

And several other council members contended that the new resolution’s overly broad language caused concerns about who could play what sports at the middle school level.

The uproar is the latest in culture war clashes that have taken place at Virginia Beach school board meetings over the last couple of years.

Two dozen students spoke Tuesday night, all in favor of the resolution. Several said it would be a repudiation of proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration that they’ve been speaking out against for months.

The Youngkin administration's proposals include requiring parental approval for students to request the use of a different name or pronouns and for students seeking counseling for gender-related issues.

Those policies, however, are in limbo as the administration sorts through 71,000 comments that came in from the public last fall. Virginia Beach schools had previously adopted state model policies proposed under former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration in 2021. Several school board members noted that the board hasn’t officially considered the Youngkin proposals because they have not yet been finalized.

Board member Staci Martin said she had gotten emails and heard from speakers on this issue with a shocking amount of vitriol.

“The message in our inboxes and the comments tonight prove that we need to acknowledge this issue,” Martin said Tuesday. “Our students and our staff and our families really deserve a safe and inclusive environment.”

AJ Quartararo is a nonbinary sophomore at Kellam High School.

Quartararo said during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as they were grappling with their identity and familial acceptance, they considered suicide.

“You might not believe that the use of a preferred name and pronouns can save a person from such a dark place, but it can. I’m living proof,” the 16-year-old said.

“Ms. Owens’ resolution is going to save lives. Not only does the resolution continue to allow the use of preferred names and pronouns, it rejects discrimination that would otherwise endanger transgender students.”

Many of the dozens of adult speakers complained that the proposal would allow schools officials to keep information from parents, cutting parents out and undermining their authority.

The board ultimately did not vote on the resolution. Instead, it asked Owens to revise the resolution to clarify some elements, particularly a passage about “activities” amid concerns about eligibility for student sports.

Some groups had claimed ahead of the meeting that the resolution would permit boys to play girls sports.

The resolution is expected to return in a revised form at a future school board meeting. Owens said that may be as soon as next week.

NOTE: Virginia Beach City Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO.