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Pronoun policy debate leads to chaos at Virginia school board meeting

One person was arrested after Tuesday's meeting, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office said. Another was issued a trespassing summons.
Image: A Virginia School board meeting reflects a battle playing out across the country over a once-obscure academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory, in Ashburn
Angry parents and community members protest at a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Va., on June 22, 2021.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

A discussion about a proposed pronoun policy for students turned a Loudoun County, Virginia, school board meeting into disarray and ended with an arrest.

Chaos erupted Tuesday night after school board chair Brenda Sheridan closed the public comment portion of the meeting following numerous disruptions.

A video posted on Twitter showed the large crowd shouting "shame on you" as they held up signs that read “We the parents stand up” and “Education not indoctrination.”

The proposed policy, which would require teachers to address students by their preferred pronouns, has been a contentious issue in the northern Virginia school district. Last month, Leesburg Elementary School gym teacher Byron "Tanner" Cross was placed on administrative leave days after he criticized the policy during a May 25 board meeting. He was later reinstated after a Virginia judge ordered the school to give him his job back.

At Tuesday's meeting, Loudoun County deputies eventually had to intervene following an altercation in the boardroom where one person physically threatened another attendee, the sheriff's office said in a statement.

One person who "continued to be disorderly with the deputy" and resisted being taken into custody was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to authorities.

"Following this, the Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools declared the meeting an unlawful assembly, directed attendees to leave, and advised those who remained would be subject to being charged with trespassing," the sheriff's office said.

"One adult male refused to leave and was detained by LCSO Deputies. He was escorted outside and released on a summons for trespassing by order of Loudoun County Public School Officials."

Authorities said another person was injured and required medical treatment, but it was unrelated to the events at the meeting.

Sheridan addressed the mayhem at the end of Tuesday's meeting and condemned the disruption.

"Tonight, the Loudoun County School Board meeting was interrupted by those who wish to use the public comment period to disrupt our work and disrespect each other," she said. "Dog-whistle politics will not delay our work. We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity. We will continue to work toward making Virginia, specifically Loudoun, the best place to raise a family."

A man is detained after a fight broke out during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Va., on June 22, 2021.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

Sheridan said that several board members have received death threats and others have been subjected to "graphic threats" by email and voicemail.

"These politically motivated antics ought to end. But if they don’t, know that they won’t delay our work," she said.

More than 250 speakers had signed up to address the pronoun policy as well as other issues at the school board meeting. Several of the attendees spoke in favor of the policy.

One speaker told the board that the policy is a type of "suicide prevention."

"You're going to hear a lot of voices tonight, a few are likely to be very loud. Remember that the quiet majority of people out there in the community support you and stand by you in wanting to protect children from harm," the person said in a recording of the meeting. "This policy hurts no one and helps some of our at-risk kids simply feel welcome in their schools."

Another person was in the midst of praising the board over the policy when many people in the crowd disrupted her, prompting Sheridan to call a recess. When board members returned, she reminded everyone that disruptions were not allowed.

The room stayed silent until former state Sen. Dick Black accused the board of forcing teachers to lie to students.

"It's absurd and immoral for teachers to call boys, girls, and girls, boys. You're making teachers lie to students and even kids know that it's wrong," he said.

When the crowd erupted in cheers, board members voted to end the public speaking section and move on to the next agenda item.