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Virginia Parents Take On Public School System Over Transgender Policy

Rachel Stoltzfoos | Staff Reporter

More than a hundred parents in the Arlington Public School System in Virginia are fighting what they describe as an activist-led effort to implement a dangerous new transgender policy in their schools.

The policy would allow the school to keep their kids’ gender identity hidden from parents, and give students of all ages the right to embrace the gender identity of their choice. Students would be allowed to use whatever locker room and bathroom they choose, to compete as their preferred gender in sports, and to be referred to by their preferred pronouns at school. If the students wish, the school would also assist them in keeping their chosen gender a secret from their parents.

Maria Keffler learned about the policy from a friend who stumbled across a reference to the policy on the school system’s website in February. (The school did not announce the policy until the end of May, when a final draft was posted online.) The two of them showed up uninvited at a school board working meeting that evening, and were astonished to find representatives from a local transgender activist group discussing a policy wishlist with school board members, administrators and several students.

A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at Oval Park Grill on May 11, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

“A lot of it revolved around keeping stuff secret from parents,” Keffler told The Daily Caller. She and her friend, who is also a parent of an Arlington student, were not allowed to participate in the meeting. They immediately began spreading word of the policy, and a group of five of them met up in March. “We were like, we’ve got to do something,” Keffler said. (RELATED: The Real Story Behind A Powerlifting Federation’s Decision To Ban Trans Athletes From Competition)

They formed the Arlington Parent Coalition, launched a website to inform the community and organize a response, and began attending board meetings and demanding more information from school officials. They were surprised to learn through a freedom of information request that the school had been meeting with activists from the group, the Arlington Gender Identity Alliance, since September of last year.

When five of them met with two administrators in early April and asked about the policy, the administrators said they were just discussing the policy and had not yet written any drafts. A few days later, Keffler obtained two drafts of the policy through a freedom of information request. “They just blatantly lied to us about it,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Arlington Public Schools said she was not aware of that instance of a parent asking to see a draft, but said working drafts of policies typically are not shared with the public. “When the FOIA was received, we shared what we had in place,” Catherine Ashby told the Caller. “It’s not our usual practice to share drafts in early stages before they have been fully reviewed internally.” She added that the online forum for public input is not normally part of the process for this kind of policy.

“APS has been very clear and consistent about our timeline for PIP development and for receiving community input, and we have provided regular updates on our progress during School Board meeting announcements,” Ashby said.

L.G.B.T. activists and their supporters rally in support of transgender people on the steps of New York City Hall, October 24, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Parents were given from May 28 until June 11 to review the final draft of the policy and submit comments online. The school board plans to approve it June 18, so it can be implemented for the 2020 school year. Some parents feel disrespected, since the school spent nine months talking to activists about the policy, but provided just two weeks for parents to provide feedback. (RELATED: Columbia Journalism Review Chooses Sides In Transgender Debate)

“The way they presented it to the public just demonstrates that this was a process that was at the service of a special interest group, not the public,” Mary Hazzard, another member of the Arlington Parent Coalition, told the Caller. “Where was the public engagement?” she added. “No effort, is what this timeline suggests to me.”

More than 170 people have signed a petition to delay the policy posted online by the Arlington Parent Coalition. An earlier petition gathered more than 150 signatures, but was shut down by the host website, Care2, for violating its terms of service.

“The process has been incredibly rushed and secretive, and the policy is very flawed and poorly supported,” another parent who is concerned about the policy told The Daily Caller. “It could have some untoward effects on students who don’t agree with everything in the policy as a matter of conscience.” He asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Many parents are reluctant to question the policy publicly, Keffler said, because of the vitriol from the other side. “Suppression of debate is all over this,” she said. “Every time we say anything with concern or caution about this policy, and again we’re just focusing on parental rights and girls protections, immediately it’s ‘homophobe, transphobe, hater, bigot.’ And sometimes religious zealot gets thrown in there.”

People rally to protest the Trump administration’s reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female at birth, at City Hall in New York City, U.S., October 24, 2018. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

The Arlington Parent Coalition’s chief concerns with the policy are that the school is wrongly usurping parental authority, and that it could harm girls who could be forced to share bathrooms, locker rooms and lodging on overnight trips with biological boys, as well as compete with them in sports. Additionally, they say the data doesn’t back up the approach the school is taking, particularly with pre-adolescent transgender kids.

“The school has decided that they know better than the parents how to treat kids with gender dysphoria, and they’re following this flawed ideology that you have to get them transitioning right away,” Maria Keffler, one of the parents leading the opposition to the policy, told The Daily Caller. “And that’s just not true.” (RELATED: Liberals At Odds With Science In Transgender Athlete Debate)

“There’s one narrative that the transgender agenda is pushing, and that is that any person who says they feel like they’re the wrong gender, you have to affirm their transition — there is no other acceptable path,” she added. “That is not supported by data. That is not supported by science.”

The parent who asked not to be named added: “The policy ignores the evidence that a very high percentage, possibly 80 to 85 percent of pre-adolescents with gender dysphoria, will actually have that resolved on its own as they go through puberty. This policy as I read it would rather consign those kids to a dysphoric prison, rather than recognize that in a lot of instances it will resolve in a way in which the gender identity aligns with their biological sex. To implement a policy what that big a gap is just a big mistake.”

Ashby told the Caller the school’s goal in implementing the policy is to make sure all of their students feel safe and accepted. “The Department of Teaching and Learning is leading our work to develop the PIP to ensure that all students feel accepted and safe in school, including our transgender youth, in keeping with the APS core mission and values,” she said.

The Arlington Parent Coalition isn’t sure what the next steps will be if and when the policy is approved next week, though they are planning to propose an alternative policy to the school board. For now, their primary goal is to buy more time to vet the policy and raise awareness in the Arlington community.

“I don’t think there’s much chance of it getting turned down, because there is a lot of political and cultural pressure happening around this,” Keffler said. “It’s not popular to raise any questions about this.”

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