By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County School Board was questioned Monday evening on where it stands on policies regarding transgender students.
Also, during Monday’s meeting, the board briefly discussed background checks for school board members and the superintendent, and heard an update on several construction projects in county schools.
Billy Williams, a Draper resident and a candidate for that district’s seat on the school board in November’s election, addressed the board on the transgender student issue.
Williams noted that in 2021, the board ratified a Model Policy on transgender students presented by the State Board of Education during Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
“This was a very controversial model policy,” Williams recalled.
He said the thing parents were most worried about was that the policy allowed biological males unchecked access to female restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities.
Williams told the school board Monday that on July 23 of this year, the Virginia Department of Education in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration had released a new policy entitled, “Model Policies Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools.
“The question I have for you on the board is when will the 2023 version of the policies be voted on,” asked Williams.
He followed that question with another – Currently which policy is being enforced today in schools?
Superintendent Rob Graham asked School Board Chairman Beckie Cox if he could respond to Williams.
“You may,” she said.
Graham told Williams that right now, the school system is “using the current version that we have.”
He noted school officials are in discussions with school board attorneys and the Virginia School Board Association to get required information to be able to disseminate to the public before a decision is made.
He added that one of the board’s attorneys could not attend Monday’s meeting because they were in another school division – “believe it or not discussing the same thing.”
“If you give us just a little bit of time – it’s on our radar,” Graham said.
Williams asked for a time frame.
“Just as a time frame estimate, three months,” he asked.
Graham responded that, because students are already in school, “We would really like to have something sooner than later.”
Graham added, “a lot of the attorneys are packed right now with questions that are coming up that are stemming from other divisions too.”
In accordance with a 2020 state law, city and county school boards in Virginia must adopt policies that are “consistent with” the education department’s new model policies. Local school boards may also adopt policies that are “more comprehensive,” as long as they are consistent with the state’s policy.
Facilities Director Jess Shull gave the school board an update on construction projects ongoing in county schools.
Most of the projects he outlined are complete or nearly complete, including replacement of the entire roof at Critzer Elementary School.
“That’s a really nice roof,” Shull said. “We’re really happy with it. We needed it and it was a longtime in coming.”
Snowville Elementary School has received a new roof as well. It is 85 percent complete, Shull noted, with only finish work needed.
Another roof project, over the band and chorus rooms at Pulaski County High School is running behind. However, Shull said that is a much smaller job and should cause “minimal disruption” at PCHS. He said work on it hopefully would begin next week.
Other projects that have been completed include a cooler/freezer installation and remodeled kitchen office at Dublin Elementary School.
Both Critzer and Snowville received new dishwashers and worktables.
And the rehabilitation of the cooling tower in the main building at PCHS has been completed.
The project that may get the most attention and will certainly be seen the most is the door replacement at PCHS, which Shull estimated is 51 percent complete.
He said replacement of the doors at the gym and the CTE building have been completed, but work has yet to begin on the academic building.
“Six to eight weeks, hopefully,” Shull said in estimating the completion time for the project.
“The facelift is going to be unbelievable,” he noted. “We’ve made it out of the 70’s.”
Shull expressed amazement at the nine different colors on the old doors all over the school.
“They were cream, white, gray, brown, red … nine different colors,” he said.
When the project is completed, he said all the doors will be either glass or sport Cougar colors.
An information item listed on Monday’s meeting agenda tagged “School Board Member Background Checks” drew interest at the meeting, but fizzled quickly.
The agenda described the information item as follows:
“Pulaski County Public Schools would like to recommend that newly elected board members undergo criminal background checks within 30 days of election or appointment. The Pulaski County School Board would like all new board members to complete the process as soon as possible to address any potential questions before the January organization meeting takes place.”
“This came up during one of our (school board) trainings,” said Cox. She asked Graham to explain the item, and noted that the agenda language shouldn’t have said “newly” elected board members, but should be just board members.
Graham explained the background check is part of the VSBA training new school board members are asked to go through, as are new superintendents.
He said the VSBA recommended background checks “for safety purposes, of course.”
Graham asked the board to give him more time to discuss the recommendation with his assistant superintendents, Sarah Polcha and Tara Grant, and then report back.