“Toxic” Parents in Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg City Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) have a tough row to hoe.

April Howard, HCPS chief officer for student support, noted in a presentation to the school board on October 19 of 2021:

Fall 2021 Student Trends
➔ Observations of increased anxiety
➔ Increased school refusal
➔ Increased reports of suicidal ideation—utilization of SPG protocol
➔ Increased needs for emotional regulation support
➔ Increased behavioral issues in pre K-12
➔ Concerns related to loss of social skills due to pandemic-related isolation

That is a common list of the monumental issues brought about by the COVID closures.

So, HCPS somehow thought it a good time to pick a fight over protecting “transgender and gender questioning” kids from their teachers and parents.

They got one.

Virginia’s Model Policies for the
Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools were published by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) pursuant to a 2020 law that directed they be created. HCPS published new policies in the fall of 2021.

Conflicting rights, interests and requirements. Many parents and teachers are having trouble in supporting or, if they support them, at least in bridging the gaping chasms among many things that are supposed to happen simultaneously under such policies:

  1. introduction of LBTGQ+ lessons in kindergarten FLE syllabi.  Participation may at least be waived;
  2. the way identifications are to be made of transgender and “gender curious” six-year-olds in those same kindergartens;
  3. maintaining the confidentiality of such kids;
  4. mandatory use of preferred transgender pronouns; and
  5. denying any such information to parents.

Some teachers very understandably object to their roles in this. They make constitutional claims of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The lawsuit. HCPS is now shocked — shocked — that they are getting sued by both teachers and parents. I recommend you read the article.

School Boards and the Virginia Constitution. The Constitution of Virginia has caused a lot of issues because Article VIII gives constitutional authority and responsibility to the General Assembly, the Board of Education and the school boards.

Some Virginia school boards, understanding their rights and responsibilities under Article VIII that grants them authority to exercise “supervision the schools,” have ignored some Virginia laws and regulations that are put in place without enforcement mechanisms.

Some school boards do pretty much what they want unless state or federal funding is imperiled. It is not here.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction noted that when he sent a memo on July 30, 2021 that warned that non-compliance exposed the school divisions to lawsuits from parents.

“Local school boards that elect not to adopt policies assume all legal responsibility for noncompliance.”

He did not mention that compliance offered similar exposure.  But they already knew that.

Such independence is certainly a virtue in many cases in which school boards must consider the desires of their citizens. But HCPS embraced the opportunity to go even further.

HCPS administration presentation to the school board. Ms. Howard’s presentation noted that “Voices of Virginia Students” had said that “Some families are unsafe and toxic if kids come out.” Unsafe and toxic.

Children learn that in public schools.

From Ms. Howard:

Celebrating the Spirit of Bullying Prevention

HCPS Student Support team continues to embrace an inclusive environment where all students are valued, protected, and given the opportunity to learn in a safe environment.

  • ➔  Restorative Justice Efforts
  • ➔  Trauma-informed Care
  • ➔  SEL Committee
  • ➔  Suicide Prevention
  • ➔  Growth for Student Support Department

Woke boxes checked? Absolutely.

Then, perhaps getting carried away in the moment, she took the opportunity to present the notion that the “model policies” were “a result of consultation and collaboration with multiple stakeholders with a variety of backgrounds and expertise.”

Howard did not say those “stakeholders” who composed the special panel convened by VDOE had a variety of perspectives, because they demonstrably did not. That panel was a philosophical one-trick pony.

This is how she characterized one of the issues that got the board sued by teachers.

Practices Regarding Chosen Names

If a student shares a chosen name or pronoun different from your documentation on day # 1:

➔ Always utilize a student’s chosen name and pronouns

➔ Respect the student’s choice and privacy

➔ Share this information confidentially with the student’s assigned school counselor — trust your team


A student’s gender transition should be considered confidential. It’s highly detrimental to out a student to another school staff, peers, or a student’s family. All communication should be in collaboration with the student. (Author’s caution: It will require great care to use a student’s transgender pronouns (rule above), affirm a student’s chosen name and gender at school (below) and avoid outing a student to another school staff or peers (this rule).)

  • ➔  The ultimate goal is to help a student safely come out to their parents with support from trusted adults
  • ➔  If you are unaware of whether the student’s parent/guardian is in support of the name or pronoun change, connect with the student’s school counselor. It is not appropriate for school staff to take the lead on sharing this information or to contact the parent/guardian to ask permission to utilize the chosen name
  • ➔  Schools are a safe place for students. A student’s chosen name and gender should be affirmed at school➔ Student support staff will continually work with the student to empower them to share with their families.(Emphasis added)

This policy was adopted even though the same presentation offered the information that:

“Voices from HCPS students” focus groups “reflected that collaboration between school and family supported improved wellbeing.”

Citations in Support of the Policy. References cited for the presentation and thus the policy included the Trevor Project, GLSEN , the LGBT Movement Advancement Project. Those are all transgender activist organizations. Similar references were relied upon by the panel that advised VDOE.

Then Howard cites the AMA, which has taken to providing amicus briefs in support of school districts who are sued for policies such as this. The AMA seems to consider all laws and policies that are less effusive than Virginia’s model policies to be “anti-transgender,” surely too broad a brush.

They deem children whose chosen pronouns are not used in schools to be threatened with psychological damage. Medical point taken.

That same organization had a medical point to make when it supported extended school closings to deal with COVID. It was proven wrong net of the costs and benefits, and I think the AMA would admit it, but it had the right to make it.

But they do not address the conflicting rights, interests and requirements faced by school boards, teachers and parents on this particular issue. It is not the AMA’s job to do so.

Bullying. Ms. Howard also cited a study that did not single out transgender kids, rather the outcomes of bullying across the globe. From an editorial,

The results of this study find that across 47 of 48 countries, children and adolescents have an average 3-fold greater risk of suicide attempt when faced with bullying. In addition, there was a dose-dependent impact of the number of days bullied to odds of suicide attempt. In recent years, rates of suicide have been steadily increasing around the globe, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15- to-29-year-olds in 2016.

Every adult supports stopping bullying in schools.

The agenda in play. Parents, teachers and the HCPS administration may wish to note that the school system has been significantly underperforming in student learning for years.

But this is about something much more important to the woke:

  • advancing the cause of “identifying” gender-questioning and transgender six-year-olds; and
  • “protecting” them from their parents and teachers who may object to this particular in loco parentis excursion.

They have won in Harrisonburg pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Corrected at 7:43 on Jun 6 to reflect that it was VDOE, meaning the Superintendent of Public Instruction, not the Board of Education, who approved the unsigned model policies discussed here.