School name change policy fails after a 3-1 vote in Rockingham County

Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 4:56 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The chance to weigh in on plans which revise the Virginia Department of Education guidelines on transgender students is now underway. The school board in Rockingham County made a big decision Monday night on a similar topic that has been debated for months.

The proposed policy would have required teachers to notify parents anytime a student requests to be called by a name other than what is in the student’s official record.

This policy was introduced by board member Matt Cross in May. The board voted 3-1 to not enact this policy, with Cross being the only one to vote in its favor. Board member Lowell Fulk was not present at Monday’s meeting.

The proposed policy said:

“All employees or agents of Rockingham County Public Schools will address a student by the name or names listed only in the student’s official school records. If any student wishes to be called by any other name that does not reflect the student’s official school records, a parent or guardian SHALL be notified by the school administrator, and consent must be given for any such name change.”

“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,” Superintendent Dr. Oskar Scheikl previously told WHSV.

Many parents, grandparents, and students spoke out during the public comment in Monday night’s meeting. Some said that parents have a right to know if their child would like to be called another name or is experiencing gender dysphoria.

“If the suicidal rate of the trans community is roughly 40%, why wouldn’t parents be notified concerning mental health? It’s as if all parental decisions and guidance within the realm of parenthood are ok, but once a child expresses a change in gender we must pump the breaks and reevaluate the parent’s judgment here?” one parent said.

Others said the policy could hurt transgender students and make their life at school and at home more difficult. One mother of a transgender son shared her experiences with the school board.

“I am forever grateful for the staff and teachers that affirmed and fully embraced my son. They are the reason he graduated high school and is now thriving in college,” she said. “When you get down to it, there’s nothing in place to actually protect my right in the school system for my son or other trans students to live fully as themselves.”

Board members Charlette E. McQuilkin, Jackie Lohr, and Dan Breeden were all against the policy.

“If your child is specifically asking someone to keep it secret from you, then that seems like a problem between you and your child, and not something the school should be involved in,” Lohr said. “I would be mortified if I were called by the principal’s office to find out things about my child that I should have already known.”

While the policy did not pass, Cross said he appreciated all in the community that showed up to share their thoughts.

“When we take that fundamental right away from parents, shame on us as a government,” Cross said. “People that are here tonight, community members that can see, this board and superintendent is not for parental rights, and that’s a shame.”

The board also voted on a policy that will impact when students are allowed to use their personal electronic devices throughout the school day. That includes phones, laptops, tablets, headphones, and smartwatches.

Middle school students cannot use personally owned electronic devices during the school day. They can use them after school, at extracurricular events after school hours, and on buses.

High school students may use personally owned electronic devices during the following non-instructional times: during lunch, between classes, during study hall, before and after school including extracurricular events, and on buses.

During times when the use of the personally owned electronic device is not permitted, student-owned devices must be concealed in a separate container such as a book bag or purse and muted.

Exceptions to this policy, for example for medical reasons, must be approved by the principal on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions based on legal requirements in state or federal law do not require principal approval.