Amid resistance, Virginia Beach approves queer student nondiscrimination resolution
Virginia Beach's School Board adopted a resolution reinforcing the distict's committment to the rights of queer students at a meeting that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The resolution - viewed by many as a proxy for a larger battle over state policies proposed by the Youngkin administration - has been the topic of conversation and controversy at the school board's last few meetings.
The passage of the resolution does not change any existing schools policy.
Board member Jessica Owens said she introduced the policy to clarify exactly where the district stands on the rights of queer students.
The board's discussion of the resolution didn't start until 1 a.m. Tuesday, after around 100 members of the public spoke.
After an hour of debate and two failed substitute motions, the board narrowly approved the resolution on a 6-5 vote at 2:18 a.m.
"It’s an affirmation. It’s no different than the messages for Pride Month that VBPD posted. It’s no different than the city’s support for Pride in the Vibe," board member Staci Martin said during the discussion. "An acknowledgement of the lived experiences of our populations is critical."
Roughly two dozen students rallied outside the school board meeting Monday evening in favor of the resolution. In between downpours of rain, some of the students wrote "Trans Lives Matter" in chalk on the blacktop outside the Holland Road Annex building.
Jae Cook led the charge, a stick of chalk in hand, a transgender flag draped over his shoulders.
The Ocean Lakes High School junior said what's happening in other states with restrictions on queer rights has scared him, pushing him to tears in some cases.
Cook, who is transgender, said the resolution is a step toward making people like him feel safe.
"It's really important to me that we convey that we're really just normal people and normal kids that really just want to live our lives and feel like when we go outside that we're not in danger, that when we go to school, we're not in danger of being insulted or hate crimed or hurt or locked in a bathroom stall," Cook said. "We just want to live the life that all other kids our age get to live."
Dozens of students have been coming to meetings for several months before it was introduced to speak out against proposed state model policies that would have, among other things, required parental approval for a student to use a different name or pronouns.
More than fifty signed up to speak Monday. Several students referenced an incident at Kellam High School in which students were fillmed pulling down and tearing up a rainbow poster put up for Pride Month, citing it as an example of the ongoing need for this kind of gesture from the school board.
The resolution passed Monday was amended from its original version, excluding school sports from the non-discrimination policies. That clause was a major point of concern from parents and some school board members when the resolution was initially introduced.
NOTE: Virginia Beach City Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO.