School Board hears from residents on masks, transgender policies

By Heather Michon

The Fluvanna County School Board held its regular meeting on Wednesday (Aug. 11), a marathon five-and-a-half-hour session that covered the twin controversies of mask wearing and transgender policies, and even featured an unexpected cameo by Representative Bob Good (R-Va 5th).

The meeting came just two days after the board met in a special session on Monday morning (Aug. 9) to debate whether children should be required to wear masks ahead of the start of the new school year on Wednesday morning. Only three members were able to attend, and they voted 3-0 in favor of universal masking by students, teachers, and staff.

Andrew Pullen (Columbia District) was one of the members not able to attend Monday morning, and joined the Wednesday meeting by phone. He argued that the vote on Monday was “illegitimate,” because proper procedures had not been followed and asked that the mask issue be pulled from the evening’s agenda pending a legal review.

The board voted 3-2 to keep the item on the agenda.


Public comments lasted for about two hours and covered much of the same rhetorical territory presented during the Monday session — although there were a greater number of pro-mask and pro-transgender rights speakers than at the previous meeting.

Karen Mann spoke of her life experiences as gay and gender non-conforming, and said many of Fluvanna’s gay and trans students have reached out to her. “They need our support, your support, to create an educational environment that’s supportive and inclusive and values them for all that they are,” she said.

Parents opposed to universal masking also shared their views, often equating a mask mandate with a loss of personal freedom.

Some threatened legal action against the board, with one speaker closing his remarks with ”anyone who wants to join a class action lawsuit, come talk to me after the meeting.”


Representative Bob Good took a front-row seat for the meeting and stayed for just under four hours. Although Good is not a resident of Fluvanna County, board members did allow him the opportunity to speak late in the comment period.

Good started his comments by praising the parents who had come out to speak, and that they should do so during every public meeting. “The school board will listen to you when they fear you more than they fear Richmond.”

Good made several comments on the hot-button issues of the day — saying, for example, that critical race theory, or CRT, was “absolutely being taught” in Virginia schools.

When it came to transgender students “we know the science: God created two genders.” He called trans students “gender confused” and this “confusion” should not be reinforced by the schools.

Finally, he said, “we all know masks don’t work.” He encouraged anti-mask parents to refuse to comply with mask mandates and called these mandates “absolutely child abuse.”


Following public comments, Dr. Gretz gave a detailed presentation on how the school system might develop policies and procedures for transgender students under the new laws and guidelines from the state.

He said his proposals to the board were based on the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies and his own discussions with faculty, staff, and students, including transgender students.

“There are literally dozens of decision points within these model policies,” he said. “They need to be carefully considered, and we’ve done that as a team.”

There were also areas where the school system already had policies in place — for example, the prohibitions against bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Those didn’t necessarily need to be changed, in his opinion, merely affirmed.

Gretz said he didn’t believe it put an undue burden on teachers or staff if a student confided information about their gender identification but asked to keep it private, and that staff should
“do anything we could reasonably do to respect that.”

However, he argued that they needed to deal with issues on a “case-by-case basis.” If, for example, staff felt a student’s safety was at risk, the schools should have a role in “encouraging communication” between parents and students.

The model policies also call for eliminating “gender markers” wherever possible, and while Gretz said there certainly are some areas where this might be possible, the school system was  “very limited” on how to do that across the board.

Other areas, like dress codes, were more straightforward. He also said they could “eliminate gender-specific activities” wherever possible.


“Frankly, the bathrooms are getting all the attention here,” he said of the public debate.

In conversations, bathroom access was not one of the major concerns he was hearing from transgender students themselves.

Parents, on the other hand, were vocal in their concerns that bathrooms were “essentially going to become a free-for-all,” where any male student, or even adult male, could suddenly assert they identified as female and use that as entry into the girl’s rooms, and that the staff wasn’t allowed to question them.

Gretz said that was not the case.

Transgender students who “consistently assert” their gender identity would be allowed to use the bathroom that fits their preferred identification — but it was not the case that a male student could simply walk into the girl’s room on the argument that “he felt like a girl today.”

“We’re not going to stop kids in the hall and grill them,” he said. “But there has to be a process where there’s a conversation.”

His proposal was that trans students would have a one-time conversation with the principal and guidance counselor to gain access to the bathroom that best fits their identity. He pointed out that in the vast majority of cases, staff was already aware of the student’s transgender status.

Gretz added that the policy would only apply to students. Adults would always be offered a separate restroom, away from students.

The proposal drew questions from James Kelley (District), who said he didn’t want to see trans students have to jump through “unnecessary hoops” just to use the restroom.

“There are different beliefs about gender,” Gretz said in his closing remarks. “There are different beliefs about how many genders there are, there are different beliefs about the nature of gender, the difference between sex and gender, all of those things. I think we need to create a policy that, first and foremost, respects students and cares for students, and says: you matter. We see you, we know you, we care about you.”

Board members asked Gretz to create a written version of his proposals for further consideration.


In the final hour of the meeting, the board revisited the issue of masking.

Members Andrew Pullen and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham District) voiced their opposition to the mask requirement, but the majority of the board was clearly holding to the decision they had made on Monday. In a compromise, they agreed to revisit the issue monthly, or if they received legal guidance that they could move to a optional model.

However, the day after the meeting, Governor Ralph Northam’s administration issued a Public Health Emergency Order that requires universal masking for students in all K-12 public schools in the Commonwealth. This order will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

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