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The Crozet Gazette recently published an article entitled “Citizen Group Analyzes School Division Engagement” that suggests that ACPS and the Albemarle County School Board is suppressing parental feedback over a controversial policy. Publicly available facts support a different reality: members of the citizen group are angry that the School Board approved a policy with which they disagree and, since they can’t change the outcome, they are choosing to criticize the process. We find it irresponsible of the Gazette to imply that this grievance with the school division is newsworthy.
The policy is not controversial. It is in keeping with state and federal law. Prior to the approval of the Policy on the Treatment of Transgender and Gender Expansive Students in Schools, an open letter to the School Board supporting the need for LGBTQIA+ protections in schools was signed by over 700 people including parents, students, teachers, counselors, medical and mental healthcare providers, members of the clergy, and community members. The policy went on to receive unanimous approval by our School Board. The email review conducted by the special interest group and reported by the Gazette claims that the county received 50 emails from members of the public that expressed questions or concerns about the policy. In a school district serving more than 13,500 students, 50 emails do not indicate an overwhelming controversy.
ACPS has been deeply engaged with the public throughout the process leading up the policy’s approval. One concern raised by the group, as reported by the Gazette, is that some of the questions posed in the emails were not addressed in the public FAQ session about the policy. There are many reasons why ACPS might choose not to publicly address every email they receive. Because the Gazette published the group’s claims without trying to help the public understand the facts, however, we are left to draw conclusions based on what we already know to be true about the citizen group: that they are simply opposed to a policy that aims to provide protections to transgender students.
When given a public platform (in the form of multiple public comment sessions in ACPS School Board meetings last summer, which students are invited and encouraged to attend) community members associated with the group made such derogatory comments about transgender children and their gender-identity-affirming parents that one School Board member felt the need to address students in the community directly, assuring them: “Your humanity is not up for debate.” If emails sent to the school division continued to question the humanity of our students, we are grateful that they were not addressed publicly.
At a time when trust in our institutions and in each other seems to be at an all-time low, we count on local journalism to report the facts about issues that affect our lives and foster community connection. Instead, the Gazette has chosen to amplify messages of anger and division.
We need local journalism to do better than to report the claims of a special interest group without doing their readers the service of verifying the facts. We believe that all of us, regardless of where we stand on current policies, have more in common than otherwise, and we count on the Gazette to highlight our shared humanity and report on the local news in a way that might help us build new partnerships and support each other, especially those most in need.
Most importantly, we want to ensure that transgender and gender-expansive kids know they are loved exactly as they are and that they absolutely belong in our homes, in our schools, and in our community.
Heidi Gilman Bennett
ACPS Parents, Western feeder pattern