Parents and at least one teacher say they see a discrepancy between Albemarle County Public Schools’ public defense of transgender and nonbinary students and private criticism of teachers who openly support LGBTQ young people.
The criticisms, made at a school board meeting Thursday, comes a week after county schools issued a press release opposing Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2022 model policies.
Youngkin’s new guidance would require students to use school programs and facilities that correspond to their biological sex. Parents would have to give teachers and staff permission to call students by a different name or pronoun.
The new guidance may require school staff to report students who share their gender or sexuality at school to their parents, effectively “outing” them.
Mary Miller, a student teacher at Greer Elementary School, said she was asked not to wear a t-shirt reading “protect trans kids” over a flag with pale pink, baby blue and white flag, the colors of transgender pride.
“Less than two hours after arriving at Greer, the assistant principal pulled me into her office. Evidently, a Greer staff member had complained about my shirt,” Miller said.
Miller said that the assistant principal, Wendy Eckerle, then told Miller that her shirt espoused a “non-neutral political viewpoint,” violating the county schools’ code of conduct. According to Miller, Greer’s principal Stephen Saunders backed Eckerle’s decision.
“I am a queer woman, with a trans and nonbinary partner,” Miller said. “I had chosen not to be open with my students at Greer about my family despite observing straight teachers at Greer share about their spouses and families, despite the fact that I was asking second grade students to share about their families with me.”
After being told she couldn’t wear her t-shirt, Miller decided not to hide any longer. Still, she said, Saunders told her to talk about her family only in “general terms” and not to initiate the conversation.
“Trans and gender-expansive students need, like all kids, to be valued and safe at school. As a particularly vulnerable group, they need to know that their teachers support them, not just as kids, but as trans kids,” Miller said.
“The school board is not neutral when it comes to protecting trans kids, for good reason. Supporting trans youth is often, tragically, a matter of life or death,” Miller said.
Criticizing teachers for wearing clothing that expresses open support for trans students is at odds with the board’s public statement.
“It is unfortunate that this year’s proposed policies were not research-based and are without the input of school divisions and the population most directly and severely affected. We regret that it ignores the experience of divisions that have enacted policies to protect the well-being and the lives of all students,” the board’s public statement reads.
The student teacher was reprimanded despite the fact that the school board’s statement used language similar to her t-shirt. The statement refers to, “our existing policy to protect transgender and gender-expansive students.”
Even parents were upset that teachers felt they could not be open with their views.
“Caring for kids is literally the bare minimum that teachers and school staff commit to when entering the profession,” said Sarah Miller, an Albemarle County Public Schools parent.
“The policy says that school time should not be used for political purposes,” said Bekah Saxon, a director of the Albemarle Education Association, a local teacher’s union. “Supporting trans students is not political.”
Saxon said the association has received multiple calls and emails from teachers who say they feel they cannot freely support their support for LGBTQ students.
The Albemarle Education Association first signaled its frustration with the division’s press release on Monday.
“It’s frustrating to read Albemarle Co.’s vigorous statement of commitment to ‘protect transgender and gender-expansive students,’ when we are told by educators that some administrators are restricting them from expressing support for those students. They can’t have it both ways,” the association tweeted.