New county school board removes books from libraries & adopts Gov. Youngkin’s gender identity policies

In its first official meeting with three newly elected members, the Rockingham County School Board didn’t waste any time enacting some of the controversial policies that have been roiling school boards far and wide.

The board voted 4-1 on Monday both to adopt Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s model policies regarding students’ sex and gender identities, and to temporarily remove 57 books from school libraries while drafting review policies.

Ashley Burgoyne (District 2), Hollie Cave (District 5) and Sara Horst (District 4) — all who campaigned on conservative values and were elected in November by mostly decisive margins — made their debut on the dais. Matt Cross (District 3) has taken the helm as board chair after being appointed at a special meeting on Friday.

57 books to leave school shelves…for now

The board will temporarily remove 57 titles from school libraries while creating policies to review them and other books for fitness based on allegations of sexual content, violence and profanity.  According to a list provided by Cave, who introduced the motion, 19 of those books were flagged by parent complaints and seven by parent inquiries.

The list includes titles such as “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

“I have never in my life read such things,” Cave said of the books on the list. “We want to talk a lot about mental health and taking care of our kids. I think we need to start with what we’re putting in their heads.”

To form the review policy, Cross said the board will host public work sessions and invite school faculty and staff to provide input. Horst said she hopes it’ll go quickly — “we don’t want to be holding books hostage forever and ever,” she said. Once the policy is finalized, Cross said, the temporarily banned books will be formally evaluated.

In public comment, before the specifics of the motion were revealed, several speakers admonished the removal of library books, many of which include LGBTQ characters or topics.

“Every child should be able to see themselves, a mirror, in books accessible in their school library,” said Sandra Parks, a retired librarian and Bridgewater resident.

She added that limiting access to diverse books will lower students’ interest in reading: “If there’s not free inquiry, what’s even the point?” Parks said.

“This is not a popular decision to make,” Cross said before the vote, of which Jackie Lohr was the only board member in dissent. “It’s not a popular place to sit, but we do sit as a safeguard for our children in our community, and our community elected us to do what was right in our schools, for our children and for our parents.”

Cave declined to answer any questions after the meeting.

School board adopts Youngkin’s model policies

The school board voted to adopt in full Youngkin’s 2023 Model Policies to Ensure Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools. The policies focus on drawing boundaries of what school staff can do and increasing parental involvement regarding students’ sex and gender identity.

The model policies instruct school staff to refer to students only by the name and pronouns respective to the name and sex listed in their official record and requires parental approval or documentation to change the official record. It also separates bathroom use and some school activities, like sports, by sex rather than gender.

The county’s current school manual contradicts some of Youngkin’s model policies, but Cross said the school board is working with legal counsel to ensure the two don’t overlap.

“We’re going to adopt [the model policies] in full and if there are any current policies that we have in place that contradict this policy, we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t contradict,” Cross said.

Multiple people spoke against the model policies in the public comment period. 

“Requiring a teacher to essentially use a student’s name that they do not accept, is dehumanizing,” said Les, a county resident. “It also destroys that student’s trust, and [a staff member] might be the only person that that student actually trusts in the entire world.”

Also of note

Cross began the meeting with a prayer invocation and was met with opposition during the public comment period, where several speakers said a prayer at the beginning of a government meeting wasn’t in line with their values of the separation of church and state. Multiple local government bodies pray at the start of their meetings, including the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and Harrisonburg City Council. Cross said he’ll continue to do a prayer invocation at future school board meetings.

Editorial note: an earlier version of this story said 55 books were temporarily removed.

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