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Local school boards weigh trans policies
Roanoke County’s school board appears eager to adopt new policies under Gov. Glenn Youngkin that roll back protections for transgender students.
The model policies from the Virginia Department of Education, finalized last week, replace those under former Gov. Ralph Northam, which recommended school staff accept students’ stated gender identities and pronouns. The new guidelines — which local school divisions are expected to follow — say students' gender corresponds with their sex assigned at birth, unless a parent says otherwise in writing.
A draft of Roanoke County’s policy, proposed for adoption at its meeting Thursday, states staff should use gender pronouns consistent with a student’s sex and that students should play on sports teams and use restrooms corresponding to that sex.
“The policies align with our current practice to involve parents in developing gender support plans for students who request accommodations and to protect their privacy and educational rights,” Superintendent Ken Nicely said in an email.
Meanwhile, Roanoke City Public Schools is reviewing the policies and awaiting guidance from the Virginia School Board Association, according to district spokeswoman Claire Mitzel.
Salem City Schools will also lean on VSBA for guidance, city spokesman Mike Stevens said, noting staff plan to discuss the policy with board members when they meet in early August.
Elizabeth Ewing, director of legal and policy services at VSBA, said the group is reviewing the policies and will communicate with districts at a later date. Ewing did not respond to an email asking how long that may take.
Roanoke City, Roanoke County and Salem made little or no adjustments to the 2021 model policies under Northam, saying that their current nondiscrimination policies sufficed.
LGBTQ advocates fear the policies under Youngkin’s administration — which bills the changes as an issue of “parental rights” — could “out” students as transgender to hostile parents and increase the risk of self-harm. Trans and nonbinary youth who feel that people in their life affirm their gender identity reported lower rates of suicide attempts, according to a 2020 survey on LGBTQ youth mental health from The Trevor Project.
Roanoke County’s school board members have come under fire for their silence when a parent at a May board meeting accused school staff of being “sexual predators” for wearing rainbow lanyards and clothing at Glen Cove Elementary School.
“At no point did anyone in the room stand up and say that our teachers are not sexual predators in disguise,” a teacher at Hidden Valley High School emailed board chairman Brent Hudson and Nicely on May 22, according to a copy obtained by The Rambler in a public records request. “How do you expect to recruit and retain teachers when we can now expect public slander to go unchallenged in our school board meetings?”
“I think what happens in a situation like this is that the board members generally may be aware of a situation, are sympathetic to the parents’ frustration in the heat of the moment, and want to seem responsive to citizen concerns,” Nicely responded. “A highly objectionable phrase like ‘sexual predators disguised as teachers’ is said without the board members necessarily processing what they just heard. I try to take notes when citizens are speaking, but I missed that one myself.”
He added, “The situation is certainly regrettable on multiple fronts and potentially makes the public believe that all public school educators are on a mission to indoctrinate their children about political and social issues, which, of course, is not true.”
Board member Cheryl Facciani wrote in a May 19 that “we do not need flags or propaganda to teach kindness, respect and acceptance,” in response to a parent’s concern about the board’s silence.
“Culture wars, political statements, and gender ideology have no place in our classrooms,” she wrote. “We must stick to the basics.”
Designs show Roanoke kayak park plans
Roanoke has released renderings for an in-river kayak park at Wasena Park that’s estimated to cost upwards of $4 million.
The city’s parks and recreation department will host a meeting about the plan at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at the Wasena Park picnic shelter.
“While a number of similar in-river parks can be found across the country, this will be the first of its kind in the state of Virginia,” the city said in a press release. “The proposed plan incorporates features that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of river and park users from experienced paddlers, to tubers, to those who enjoy wading in calm waters or viewing from the riverbanks.”
Renderings from design firm Stantec show the kayak park located near the Wasena Park greenway bridge, across from Vic Thomas Park. The project will involve damming parts of the Roanoke River to create whitewater rapids.
Current plans call for more access points to the river, including those that are ADA accessible.
Roanoke has earmarked $3 million in federal pandemic relief funds for the in-river kayak park, though the city said Monday that “the plans are ambitious and in order to fully execute the proposed design, additional funding would be required (estimated at $1 million).”
The city is working with Stantec to acquire permits from various state and federal agencies, which the nonprofit Roanoke Outside Foundation described as “the biggest challenge.” The group noted the river is home to the endangered Roanoke logperch fish.
The idea for a kayak park goes back to at least 2015, when Roanoke Outside commissioned a feasibility study.
The city said it hopes to complete the project by 2026.
Roanoke groups celebrate National Night Out
A dozen Roanoke neighborhood groups and community organizations are gathering next week for National Night Out.
The annual event, held in cities across the country since the 1980s, celebrates partnerships between law enforcement and neighborhood organizations.
Groups will host block parties, picnics, cookouts, games and music on Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Here’s the list of events, as compiled by the city:
- Greater Grandview Area Neighborhood Watch Association at the Huff Lane Park picnic pavilion (4412 Huff Ln. NW) from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
- Mountain View Neighborhood Association at A Few Old Goats Brewery (515 8th St. SW) from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Noble Neighborhood Watch at 2008 Colgate St. NE from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Old Mountain Road Neighborhood Association at Hollins Road Baptist Church (3502 Old Mountain Rd. NE) from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Wasena Neighborhood Forum at The Green Goat restaurant outside (802 Wiley Dr. SW) from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Morningside Manor cookout and vendor fair at Morningside Manor (1020 13th St. SE) from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Goodwill Industries of the Valleys and Straight Street Northwest event at 2502 Melrose Ave. NW from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Neighbors in South Roanoke on the lawn by Fire Station #8 (2328 Crystal Spring Ave. SW) from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
- I Heart SE and Old Southwest, Inc. with joint plawking at 5:15 p.m. (Food Lion at 2110 Bennington St. SE or Waverly Place Baptist Church at 1407 Kenwood Blvd. SE), followed by the Neighbors in South Roanoke party.
- Melrose-Rugby Neighborhood Forum at McCadden Park (1616 19th St. NW) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
- Hill Street Baptist Church and Villages at Lincoln Terrace at the gazebo on Dupree Street from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
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