“Welcome to the fire”

School board deals with masks, transgender issues, critical race theory

By Ruthann Carr

Fluvanna welcomed its newest superintendent with a rousing chorus of “No masks. No Critical Race Theory. No change to our policies for transgender students.”

Only the mask issue was settled at the Fluvanna School Board meeting Wednesday (July 21).

The Board voted 4-1 to make masks voluntary at school when it opens Aug. 11. James Kelley (Palmyra) cast the dissenting vote.

Students will have to wear masks while on the school buses because it is a federal mandate.

Gretz said students will attend five days a week and much will return to how things were before the pandemic.

More than 40 people let their opinions be known with much whooping and hollering from the gallery when the speaker agreed with their point of view.

Superintendent Peter Gretz sat listening quietly to all who spoke, even bowing his head as Cat Campbell asked to lead the group in prayer.

“Lord Jesus, this is a challenging time. It’s not about what is popular, but what is right. We ask for guidance and wisdom and to move forward in love and kindness,” Campbell said.

On Wednesday morning, Gretz  emailed a letter to parents and staff in which he encouraged residents going to the meeting to model, “The ability to engage in healthy conflict and navigate problems with people of different perspectives,” calling it an “essential skill.”

About five of the 40 speakers urged the board to consider changing policies to go along with legal mandates to not stigmatize transgender students.

After thanking Gretz for the letter, Cindy Girard said everyone wants their children to succeed.

“Our transgender students are not predators to be feared or an abomination,” she said.

Jessica Jackson, a retired teacher, said critical race theory is “something Fox news is using to divide us.”

Karen Mann said she is a woman who presents as a man.

“In fact, several people called me sir when they greeted me here. But I have the emotional resources to deal with that,” she said, while young people may not.

Mann urged the Board to make policies that accommodate transgender students.

More three quarters of those who spoke echoed each other in asking the board to not change policies for transgender students and to make mask-wearing voluntary.

After Campbell prayed, she said she personally emailed school staff asking one question: Should mask wearing be mandatory or voluntary for students and staff?

“I received 132 responses and 73 percent of those wanted masks to be voluntary,” Campbell said.

The schools employ more than 500.

Jennifer Scopelliti said it’s a “scientific fact” there are only two genders.

Many others stated a similar sentiment.

Several echoed Danny Reed’s promise to find an educational coop and pull their children from Fluvanna schools if transgender policies are changed.

Several spoke of their own children being sexually harassed at school.

Roger Bowles acknowledged Gretz.

“Wow, thank you for listening Dr. Gretz. Welcome to the fire,” Bowles said. “Give your parents and students choice about the mask. Don’t worry about what comes from Richmond. We’ll tell you what to do here in Fluvanna.”

After public comments, Gretz spoke.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for you to see my true colors,” he said.

Gretz explained how the Virginia School Board of Education guidelines on policies regarding transgender policies came to be.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law in 2020 that stemmed from a Virginia Supreme Court ruling in a case brought by a transgender student, Gavin Grimm.

Grimm transitioned from female to male while a student in Gloucester County High School. Grimm began using the boy’s restroom. Parents complained, and the Gloucester County School Board passed a regulation requiring students to use the restroom that matched their biological gender. Grimm continued to face ridicule and his parents sued the school board on grounds of Title IX discrimination and the Equal Protection clause. After many rulings and appeals, in the end, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal to the ruling that found for both of Grimm’s clams on Title IX and Equal Protection.

Because the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, the lower court’s ruling stands.

The Virginia General Assembly mandated that, “The Department of Education shall develop and make available to each school board model policies concerning the treatment of transgender student in public elementary and secondary schools that address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices…”

Gretz said Fluvanna schools have a policy of offering a single stall restroom to transgender students, which follows the law.

The problem would be if a transgender student said they still felt discriminated against and wanted to use the facilities that matched the gender they identify as.

“The problem would be denying a student’s insistence on using the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity,” Gretz said.

After much discussion, Gretz asked for one month to talk to school administrators, nurses and others so he can form a recommendation.

The Board granted that, tabling the discussion until the Aug. 11 meeting.

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