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Amherst school board addresses public feedback on proposed nondiscrimination policy

Amherst school board addresses public feedback on proposed nondiscrimination policy

As the Amherst County School Board reviews a new policy centered on nondiscrimination and harassment, school officials released a statement Sept. 11 that addressed what they described as “false information” passed throughout the community regarding the language in several of those proposed measures.

The policy language as proposed adds “sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, status such as a veteran” as among students and employees who are not to be discriminated against.

During a public comments period of the Sept. 10 Amherst County School Board meeting, several residents voiced opposition to opening up bathrooms and locker rooms to anyone who identifies as transgender.

The division released a statement the following day that read: “Nowhere in these policies does it address anything about the use of locker rooms, restrooms, etc.” In a phone interview following the meeting, Superintendent Rob Arnold said the more “inclusive” language reflects recent state law and is about equal educational opportunities for all regardless of sexual orientation, creed or gender identity.

“It is strictly about nondiscrimination and harassment,” Arnold said. “The policy doesn’t have anything to do with our current practices inside the buildings.”

The language also applies to the disabled community, he said. Board member John Grieser said misinformation from a social media post prior to the board’s meeting spread “like wildfire.”

Grieser said it’s important for the board to address fears among residents with facts rather than rumors. “Because especially in today’s environment, the sparks of rumors can throw a community into chaos,” said Grieser.

The board voted to postpone a vote on the policies and requested further review from the board’s legal counsel, which will be present when the board next takes up the matter.

“We don’t discriminate or harass against anyone,” Arnold said of the proposed policies. “It was aligning with Virginia code.”

Board members thanked the residents for voicing their concerns and encouraged the public to seek information directly from school officials or the division’s website.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page before we proceed with this,” board member Christopher Terry said.

Vice Chairwoman Abby Thompson said of the several public comments received on the matter: “What I took away from that was we had a community that is involved.”

Grieser said he and fellow members have close ties to the school system, many with children there and who have graduated from Amherst, adding the board has the safety and wellbeing of students and staff in every decision.

“Believe me, this is something we don’t take lightly,” Grieser said, further urging residents to contact school leaders with concerns. “If there’s confusion about an issue, don’t rely on a Facebook post to get you up in arms.”

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