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LGBTQ students join protests over new Fairfax County school superintendent

Critics say incoming official lacks experience leading large, diverse district

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Some Fairfax students and advocacy groups object to the new superintendent.

The Fairfax County, Va., School Board voted 9 to 3 on April 14 to approve the appointment of a new school superintendent for the county school system after more than 200 students, including members of an LGBTQ student group, held demonstrations against the appointment at several high schools earlier in the day.

After a months-long search process, the School Board selected Michelle Reid, the current superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Wash., a small city located within the Seattle metropolitan area, to replace current Fairfax School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who is stepping down effective June 30.

The student protesters have joined other community and advocacy groups, including the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP, in expressing concern that Reid’s experience in leading a relatively small school district with about 22,000 students is insufficient to head the Fairfax school system, which enrolls about 180,000 students who come from more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

School officials and members of the School Board who voted for Reid’s appointment said they were impressed with the knowledge, understanding, and staunch support Reid expressed for policies embracing and supporting a racially diverse school system such as Fairfax County Public Schools.

Reid, a former school principal who holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership, expressed strong support for the needs of LGBTQ and other minority students during her interview process, according to gay Fairfax School Board member Karl Frisch, who voted in favor of Reid’s appointment.

“Throughout all of our interviews with her, Dr. Reid routinely spoke – unprompted – of the ways she addressed the equity needs of her study body – LGBTQIA students, Muslim students, students of color, English language learners, students with special needs, and more,” Frisch said during the April 14 School Board meeting.

“Her commitment to equity and inclusion was a thread woven through her answers, her accomplishments as a superintendent, and her commitments to this Board,” Frisch said. 

Information on the Northshore School District website shows that the district adopted a strongly worded nondiscrimination policy protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students in 2017 during Reid’s tenure as superintendent. Fairfax County Public Schools adopted a similar policy on gender identity nondiscrimination in 2021.

The school system in previous years adopted polices banning discrimination against students, teachers, and other employees based on sexual orientation, which Reid strongly upheld, according to her supporters.

Although the Northshore School District adopted a strongly worded policy banning bullying and harassment of all students, including LGBTQ students, in 2011, new guidelines for updating and enforcing the anti-bullying policies were updated in 2020 under Reid, who began her tenure as Northshore superintendent in 2016.

Aaryan Rawal, a spokesperson for Pride Liberation Project, the LGBTQ student group that helped organize the student protests over the Reid appointment, told the Washington Blade one day before the protests that the Pride group was not aware of any actions taken by Reid against the LGBTQ students, but the group was unaware at that time of any actions she may have taken in support of LGBTQ equality.

Rawal pointed to a letter signed by 375 students sent last week to School Board members and a consulting firm that Fairfax school officials retained to organize a search for the new superintendent explaining the students’ objections to the approval of Reid as superintendent.

“Unfortunately, the voices of the student body were not heard during this search process,” the letter says. It says that while school officials held a 15-day community outreach period that included an 11-member student “stakeholder group,” the group was not representative of the full student body.

In a separate statement, the NAACP said it favored the hiring of another finalist candidate for the Fairfax school superintendent’s job, a Black woman educator and Omaha, Neb., Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan, who withdrew from contention for the job on April 9 without giving a reason, according to reports by the Washington Post.  

“The issue we all agree on is that Fairfax County Public Schools needs a superintendent who has commensurate experience in leading organizations of this size, diversity, complexity, and that the Superintendent of Northshore School District isn’t the right fit,” a joint statement released by the NAACP and other groups opposing Reid’s appointment, including Pride Liberation Project, says.

School Board members who supported Reid said she stood out from the pool of 72 applicants, among other things, because of her approach to equity and inclusion, according to FFX Now, the online Fairfax local news site. “Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” FFX Now quoted School Board Vice Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer as saying.

“We asked all of our applicants about how they would heal a divided community,” Frisch told fellow board members. “It says a lot about her character that she told us she would listen and that she would not presume to speak for others whose lived experience is different from her own,” Frisch said.

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Virginia

Virginia Beach high school students stage walkouts to support transgender rights

City’s school board approved policy to out trans students to parents

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Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

Students at five Virginia Beach high schools on Friday staged walkouts in support of transgender rights.

The walkout is in response to the Virginia Beach School Board potentially approving policy 5-31, which the Pride Liberation Project says will require schools to out trans students to their parents.

Students have been organizing walkouts across the state since Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year announced new guidelines for trans and nonbinary students.

“Students like me aren’t going to be able to talk to our teachers if we’re constantly worried about our school officials calling home to forcibly out us,” AJ, a trans Kellam High School Student, told the Pride Liberation Project.

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Virginia

New campaign challenges Va. guidelines for transgender, nonbinary students

Students4Trans planning rallies, walkouts across the state

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Students and Pride Liberation Project supporters hold signs supporting transgender rights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of Virginia students have launched a campaign that challenges the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

The Pride Liberation Project on Sept. 20 announced the formation of Students4Trans.

Students4Trans held a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond on Sept. 22. Another rally will take place during the Virginia Beach School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. The regulations, among other things, require parents to be informed of a student’s name and pronoun change, with the exception of “imminent risk of suicide related to parental abuse or neglect.” 

Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement the guidelines. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board announced last month that students are required to use the bathroom that aligs with their assigned sex, and parents could choose the names and pronouns their children use at school. Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

Students4Trans has organized a student walkout on Friday to protest the Spotsylvania County School Board’s new policies.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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