Amid transgender controversy, Carroll County Schools eye removing gendered bathrooms

The change could impact the county’s middle and high school
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:02 AM EDT
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HILLSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - In the latest tug of war over transgender student rights in Virginia, the Carroll County School Board is trying something new. Tuesday night, the board moved to get rid of gendered bathrooms in the county’s middle and high school. The more than 100 bathrooms would be converted from ‘men’ and ‘women’ only, to single occupancy facilities.

“I know there is a cost that is associated with that, but all students deserve privacy when they use the restroom,” said Carroll County Superintendent Dr. Mark Burnette.

According to Burnette, the district has already consulted with an architect. The conversion would cost about $2.1 million - money that will have to come from the county.

“We will approach our Board of Supervisors to try and secure funding from them,” said Burnette.

The vote comes as districts across the region struggle with how to approach new state guidance, the so-called “Model Policies on Transgender Students.” Those policies govern what pronouns school staff should use with a transgender student, whether a district can inform parents of a student’s chosen gender identity, and the use of bathrooms and locker rooms, among other things.

The policies, along with outrage at Critical Race Theory, have drawn hundreds of people to school board meetings across the state, including in Floyd, Botetourt, Pulaski and Franklin counties.

Tuesday, more than 100 parents, students and community members attended Carroll County’s school board meeting. The crowd was so large, it spilled out into the hallway and filled an overflow room at the Carroll County Government Center.

Almost all spoke out against the model policies, and more than a few spoke out against the school board’s bathroom plan.

“That’s over $2 million that we could use to do other stuff with our kids,” said Jeff Pickett, pastor at Hillsville Pentecostal Holiness Church.

“Over here at the county rec department, there weren’t enough money to get ball bats to play church league softball. But you want the county to come up with $2 million to fix these bathrooms?” said another resident, Doug Goad.

Others were more forgiving. “You’re in a tough spot,” said Karl Perkins to the Board. “You did move in the right direction.”

Board members noted their hands have been tied by recent cases in federal court, including a case involving Gloucester County Schools. There, the court found a Gloucester School Board policy barring a transgender student from using the bathroom that aligned with his gender identity was unconstitutional.

After Tuesday night’s vote, Supt. Burnette said the district has taken preliminary steps to convert the middle and high school bathrooms. Further action will have to wait on the county board of supervisors.

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