Staunton Schools shares transgender policies, hears from community

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - Monday night, Staunton City Schools shared policies that it says upholds its commitment to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination for all students.

And while the State Department of Education requires written policy changes this year, it’s something Staunton Schools has been working toward since 2017.

Several people spoke to the School Board Monday night. The majority thanked them for policies that are inclusive.

“I don’t want my children growing up feeling like I did, that there is no place in this world for them,” said Jordan Zipser, a Staunton parent who identifies as transgender nonbinary. “I want my children to grow up feeling valued by their family and friends and supported and respected by their community.”

“All children have the right to excel to their full potential in an educational environment that is equitable, inclusive, and free of fear and intimidation,” said Sheila Ahmadi, supporting the policy.

These comments came after Staunton City Schools shared model policies for transgender students.

“A 2019 Gleeson survey found that 84% of transgender students feel unsafe at school,” said Executive Director of Student Services Dr. Jelisa Wolfe during a presentation before the School Board Monday night. “How we respond and support our children matters.”

Wolfe says it’s being mindful of gender markers in activities, providing private bathroom and shower options for any student, multiple bathrooms in each school for all genders, and more.

“Calling students by their preferred names and pronouns,” stated Wolfe. “It looks like eliminating all or nothing language and modeling universal respect for everyone and their lived experiences.”

Policy language now reflects gender neutrality and makes it clear the harassment policy applies to students.

While most who spoke supported the model policies, some disagreed.

“No one’s trying to deny transgendered people their right to go to the bathroom or get an education,” said Dwight Williams, who said he was speaking on behalf of a Staunton resident. “But, what we don’t want to see are boys identifying themselves as girl[s] and walking into the girl’s bathroom.”

Wolfe says they are committed to removing barriers so that all children have equal access to all programs, supports, and activities, and they have spaces where all students know they are safe, valued, and seen for who they are.

“You will hear our administrative staff say 100% of the students 100% of the time,” stated Wolfe. “It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always simple, but it is always the right thing to do.”

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