WOODSTOCK — The Shenandoah County School Board on Thursday night unanimously approved updates or revisions to 42 policies, but none of them were the transgender policy recommended by the Virginia School Boards Association.
There had been speculation from the public that the School Board was going to vote on a transgender policy, and during the meeting there were several comments from the public about transgender issues. However, Shenandoah County Superintendent Melody Sheppard said after the meeting, which lasted two-and-a-half hours, that they did not and do not plan to vote on the model transgender policy. The policies the board voted on made a few simple changes to a few words here and there in existing policies.
Before the vote, board members tried to make it clear what they were voting on.
Shenandoah County Chair Cynthia Walsh said there are no references to “transgender, gender identity or sexual orientation” in any of the policy changes they approved.
“To clarify the policies that we are voting on are policies that we already have and they are minor changes to these policies,” Walsh said. “We are not making a separate vote on a model transgender policy. That is not on our agenda. That is not on our radar screen. That’s not part of our plan.”
The School Board members said that the way the schools have handled transgender issues has been working well for years and there’s no reason to change that.
“We intend to continue to treat our children with the same dignity, respect and care that we have been throughout the years,” School Board member Michelle Manning said.
School Board member Andrew Keller said he could understand why parents of a daughter would be upset thinking a boy might try to come into the girls’ bathroom. But he said he knows the principals wouldn’t just let that happen on a whim and would handle it well.
Walsh agreed and said she trusts the adults to handle it as they have been for years.
“We already have these policies in place,” Walsh said. “They have been working well. We handle these situations on a case-by-case basis and have for years and you’ve never heard anything about it because it has gone smoothly and it has been handled well by the trusted adults in the schools. And those trusted adults are the ones that are going to make sure it’s a real situation and not ‘I just want to bop into the girls’ bathroom.’”
It was also noted that each school has a unisex bathroom, for one person at a time, which is available for teachers and students.
The School Board was also given an update on the reopening of schools.
There wasn’t much change from the last update. School starts on Aug. 5 and will be five days a week with in-person instruction and normal hours.
Shenandoah County Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services and Strategic Planning Dave Hinegardner said the school will follow health and mitigation strategies to help prevent the spread of COVID. Schools will strive for 3 feet of physical distancing when possible and will continue the daily symptom checks of students and staff.
One big change from the last update is with buses. They will now allow students to be picked up and dropped off at different locations. That was not allowed last year.
Hinegardner said transportation will be at full capacity. He said masks are required on buses due to a Federal Transportation Mandate, which is set to expire on Sept. 14.
The cafeteria will be at full capacity and meals will be provided free of charge this year. Students will maintain at least 3 feet of distance in the cafeteria.
Hinegardner said there will be normal school grade configurations at the northern and central campuses. Last year students in some grades had to be moved to different schools due to social distancing regulations.
He also said that water fountains will be bottle filling stations only.
Shenandoah County Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Innovation Gabrielle Ryman said they will minimize or eliminate dual roles for teachers. Last year teachers had to teach in-person and virtually at the same time, which she said was very challenging.
Ryman said Schoology, the learning management system that was used last year for virtual learning, will still be used some to give students and parent access to instruction. She said it can be used if there is bad weather that forces schools to be closed.
The School Board also recognized the Shenandoah County Summer Strings Academy, which was held to advance students musical skills in strings and violins. They worked with many of the music teachers at the various schools and the academy was held on June 21-24.
The students also performed two numbers in-person for the School Board members on Thursday.
The School Board also recognized six Shenandoah County Public Schools Instructional Technology Resource Coaches, who were recently awarded the Innovation in Education K-12 award at the Shenandoah Valley Technology Tech Nite 21 Awards Gala held virtually on June 16.
The six coaches were Chanda Greco, Amanda Mathura, Richard Shockey, Patriciaanne Fox, Valerie Fawley and Natalie Rhodes.
The School Board also unanimously approved the personnel report, which included 35 appointments, seven transfers, six long-term substitutes, 17 resignations, one retirement, four contracts rescinded, one resignation with prejudice, eight coaching appointments and five coaching resignations.
The School Board also held a Strategic Planning work session on Thursday afternoon. They talked about developing the calendar for the 2022-23 school year. They decided to use a survey for parents, students, teachers and the community to help decide what the school calendar should look like.
The plan is to have a proposed 2022-23, 2023-24 and the 2024-25 school calendar on the agenda for information only for September’s School Board meeting. The plan is to approve the school calendars at the October meeting.
School Board members Marty Helsley, Keller, Shelby Kline, Manning, Walsh and Karen Whetzel were all in attendance in-person for Thursday’s meeting.