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Virginia district may ask trans students to show 'criminal records' to use the bathroom

LGBTQ advocates called the policy, which may also require signed statements from doctors or therapists, an “undue burden.”

A Virginia school district adopted a policy this week potentially requiring transgender students to submit a significant amount of evidence, including “disciplinary” or “criminal” records, to school administrators in order to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. 

The Hanover County School Board approved the new policy in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In order for transgender students to use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that align with their gender identity — as opposed to those that match their sex assigned at birth — they must submit two separate written requests and potentially a number of additional documents to the principal of their school.

The written requests must be submitted by the "student, along with their parent or guardian," and the additional documentation could include a signed letter from a physician, therapist or counselor verifying that the student has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria; the student's "disciplinary or criminal records"; and additional information “related to the privacy and safety of other students.” 

After reviewing the documents, the school principal will write a summary of the request that will go before the school board for final approval, the policy states. The board has the final authority over whether to approve or deny the request. 

Prior to adopting the policy, one board member, Bob Hundley, attempted to drop the portion about requiring disciplinary or criminal records, referring to the stipulation as a “criminal background check,” according to the Times-Dispatch. That attempt failed. 

In an interview with the Times-Dispatch after the meeting, Hanover County School Board Chairman John Axselle III said part of the purpose of the new policy is to ensure that students who wish to use facilities that align with their gender identity don’t have “ulterior intent.” 

In an email to NBC News, Axselle declined to comment on the policy beyond what was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. 

A coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the state decried the policy and called the new requirements an “undue burden” that will force transgender students in the district — which oversees about 17,000 students — to “earn” the right to use public school facilities. 

“By adopting the restroom and locker room policy, HCSB has shown it continues to fail the students of Hanover County,” said Narissa S. Rahaman, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Virginia, in a press release, adding the policy will “further stigmatize transgender and non-binary students who are already at risk of bullying and discrimination.” 

According to Equality Virginia, the school board approved the policy despite what the organization characterized as “overwhelming opposition,” including nearly 40 public comments objecting to the measure. 

Last week, the Hanover NAACP called on Axselle to resign. He told the Times-Dispatch he has no intention of stepping down.

This is not the first time the Hanover County School District has been in the spotlight over its policies — or lack thereof — regarding transgender students. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the district’s school board in December, alleging that it failed to comply with a statewide law passed in March 2020 requiring districts to enact multiple protections for transgender students by the start of the 2021 school year, including access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. 

The suit, which was filed on behalf of five families with transgender children in the district, is still pending in Hanover County Circuit Court. 

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