By Taylor Boyd
The Patrick County School Board discussed Critical Race Theory (CRT) and transgender facilities at a recent meeting, after it was asked to consider a resolution to not teach CRT in county schools.
“I think that’s probably being talked about, and I think it’s probably coming down the pipeline,” Denise Stirewalt said when requesting that the board adopt a resolution opposing the curriculum.
The request was not made in her official capacity as a member of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, Stirewalt added.
“I’m here as a citizen,” she said. But “if I had to vote to fund a school system that taught that, my vote would be absolutely zero.”
Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said the school system does not endorse critical race theory as part of the social studies curriculum, nor is it part of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning (SOLs).
First developed at Harvard Law School in the 1970s, critical race theory is a framework for understanding systemic racism and privilege, according to online reports. It is defined as “an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who sought to critically examine U.S. law as it intersects with issues of race in the U.S. and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.”
Brandon Simmons, chairman and of the Dan River District, said “I think it’s creating division within our school systems and our society. Hopefully, that won’t be something that Virginia soon requires.”
Walter Scott, vice-chairman and of the Smith River District, also said he believes it will create more division and does not support it.
“We all should be judged on our character and merits, not our race. I feel that (system) is already in place. We should stay focused on preparing students to be ready to join the workforce,” he said.
Amy Walker, of the Mayo River District, said she does not support CRT.
Shannon Harrell, of the Blue Ridge District, said she believes CRT is a topic better suited to be explored in post-secondary education.
“Later, if people are going in to be a history major, that’s something they can delve into, but as far as teaching it in primary or secondary, I don’t know if they’re ready for looking at things through different lenses,” especially if it doesn’t involve all types of different lenses, she said.
Noting that CRT is also not included in the SOL tests, Harrell said therefore, it is something that the school system does not teach in k-12 education.
While he is not well versed on CRT, Peters Creek District representative Ryan Lawson said he prefers to follow the words and principals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. teachings that people should be judged by their character and not the color of their skin.
With respect to transgender bathrooms, Gilbert noted that the General Assembly passed a law earlier this year requiring all school boards to adopt policies for the protection and rights of transgender students.
“We do not write our own policies and we subscribe to the VSBA (Virginia School Board Association) policy services,” Gilbert said. “The VSBA took a multiple policy approach to this, and those policies that do protect all students were passed by the school board.”
The rights of transgender students were upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, school officials added. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Simmons said that he believes a different bathroom is needed for transgender students.
“I’m okay with us taking our one percent sales tax money and building those bathrooms,” he said, and added he is concerned about “the possibilities and dangers” otherwise.
For instance, “say you have an 8th-grade girl go in the bathroom and there’s a 12th-grade boy that identifies as a girl. What if that student decides they might be a boy again that day? Or vice-versa? There’s a big age gap between students in the 8th and 12th grade, and that’s when kids are exploring life anyway,” Simmons said.
Walker said the school system should do what is needed to accommodate everyone to ensure that every student has a fair education.
While he agrees with Walker’s statement, Scott said that he supports unisex bathrooms as a possible strategy to address the issue.
“I can understand a straight person not wanting to share a bathroom with the opposite sex. That’s just not something we’ve been doing in the United States. The school board needs to take all factors into account when making those decisions,” he said. “When you are making (decisions for) 90 percent of the people, I think we got to keep everybody’s feelings and thoughts in mind.”
The discussion of transgender bathrooms is a tough one, because the board wants to respect all students, Harrell said.
“Trying to keep all of the students safe is the tricky part. Based on the feedback we get, there’s a lot of concern from the community that does not have a transgender student,” she said.
“I think we should accommodate everyone, but also ensure the safety of everyone,” Lawson said of transgender bathrooms.
In other matters, the school board:
*Approved the consent agenda.
*Approved the transfer of category balances for fiscal year-end 2021.
*Amended the proposed 2021-2022 school budget.
*Approved a policy amendment.
*Approved the Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) dual enrollment agreement.
*Approved personnel as amended.