Rockingham County School Board set to consider two policy changes later this month

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - The Rockingham County School Board met on Monday night and during the meeting heard two proposed policy changes that will be considered at the board’s next meeting on September 26.

The first of the policies comes from board member Matt Cross and was introduced back in May, it’s been the subject of debate at school board meetings since then. The proposed policy would require teachers to notify parents anytime a student requests to be called by a name other than what is in the student’s official record.

“If Rebecca says ‘I want to be called Becky’ and it’s not in PowerSchool then the administrator would have to call home to ask for permission. It would cover every scenario,” said Dr. Oskar Scheikl, superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools.

Cross did make some tweaks from the original proposal, axing the disciplinary portion of it since the division already has a policy in place to discipline staff who violate school division rules.

During school board meetings over the past few months, some have spoken out against the proposed policy saying it targets transgender students.

“The indication is that the concern is about gender crossing names. I don’t believe that the community at large feels like it is absolutely necessary that when Jackson wants to be called Jack a call home has to be made,” said Dr. Scheikl.

However, Scheikl said that if the policy isn’t followed in every instance of a requested name change it could be considered discriminatory.

“If all the conversations constantly are about gender crossing names, this issue of transgender students, then the policy could be judged as being discriminatory even if the intent of it was judged to be that,” he said.

During the meeting Monday night the board also heard a proposal from Dr. Scheikl to revise the division’s cell phone policy. Last month a survey was sent out to parents giving them several choices on the phone policy they’d like to see in the county’s middle and high schools.

The top choice was to require middle school students to keep their phones in their backpacks throughout the school day and to require high school students to do the same during class.

“It matched what we really wanted to do so that’s always good when you gather feedback from the community and there seems to be agreement somewhat across the board with the approach that we want to take. It makes that process a little bit easier,” said Scheikl.

Scheikl said that phones in school have been one of the biggest concerns he’s heard from parents. He is confident that the policy change will make a difference.

“There’s good evidence from school divisions that have already taken this step that there’s a fairly immediate increase in students being engaged in the classroom, talking to other students, and focusing on the task at hand,” he said.

The policy allows for principals to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for students with specific medical needs. It also prevents the use of wireless headphones and smartwatches in class.

The policies will be considered by the school board during its September 26 meeting if approved they will go into effect on October 1.