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Virginia school board passes LGBTQ inclusivity policy that sparked protest, resignation

The policy has been hotly debated within the community for months. Some teachers have publicly opposed it on religious grounds.

The school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, voted Wednesday to adopt a hotly contested policy requiring teachers to address students by their preferred gender names and pronouns.

The policy, which was approved 7-2, also ensures access for transgender students to school facilities and programs. It also mandates access for students to restrooms and locker rooms that “correspond to their consistently asserted gender identity.”

The policy abides by a state law passed last year that requires school boards adopt a policy protecting the rights of transgender students, according to a district statement.

The school system’s “number one priority is to foster the success of all students and ensure they feel safe, secure, accepted and ready to learn at school,” the district said.

According to the policy provided by the district, “Staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy.”

Transgender and gender-expansive students can participate in interscholastic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular programs consistent with the student’s gender identity, the policy says.

Mental health professionals “shall complete training on topics relating to LGBTQ+ students, including procedures for preventing and responding to bullying, harassment and discrimination based on gender identity/expression,” the policy states.

The school board set a five-year deadline to modify and renovate all school restrooms to add more privacy and individual spaces, NBC Washington reports.

Student Nick Gothard said the policy is about inclusivity and was "a breath of fresh air."

"It's a signal to all the trans and LGBTQ students in Loudoun that they're welcomed here, that they're loved here and that they're protected here," Gothard told NBC Washington.

Board members Jeffrey Morse and John Beatty voted against the proposal. "It's anti-family, anti-privacy, anti-teacher," Morse said, according to NBC Washington.

The policy has been hotly debated in Loudoun County for months.

In May, physical education specialist Byron "Tanner" Cross was placed on administrative leave after saying at a school board meeting the policy went against his religious beliefs.

"I'm a teacher but I serve God first, and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it's against my religion, it's lying to my child, it's abuse to a child and it's sinning against our God," Cross said.

A judge ordered the district to reinstate Cross in June.

That same month, a school board discussion over the proposed policy led to chaos and culminated in an arrest. Loudoun County deputies had to intervene following an altercation in the boardroom where one person physically threatened another attendee, the sheriff's office said.

Wednesday’s school board meeting was sparsely attended compared to a nearly 4 ½- hour meeting Tuesday when about 200 people packed a parking lot.

One of those people was Laura Morris. She identified herself as an elementary teacher who has spent five years in the district. Like Cross, Morris said the policy went against her religious beliefs.

Morris, in an emotional 2-minute speech, told the school board she quit.

“I quit your policies. I quit your trainings. And I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly-politicized agendas on our most vulnerable constituents, the children,” she said while crying. “I will find employment elsewhere. I encourage all parents and staff in this county to flood the private schools.”

The Associated Press contributed.