Concerned parents in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. were barred during a recent committee hearing from questioning a motion to replace the terms "biological sex" and "biological gender" with the phrase "sex assigned at birth" in public school curriculum.
Tensions arose during Thursday's meeting of the Fairfax County Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee where the motion affecting family life curriculums in eighth, ninth and 10th grades was overwhelmingly passed by the committee to be reviewed for final vote by the Fairfax County School Board at the end of the year.
Committee member Daniel Press brought up his concern by arguing that "the term biological gender is not an acceptable term."
"The proper term should be sex assigned at birth, gender assigned at birth, not biological gender or biological sex," Press asserted at the meeting. "We should always be using the term sex assigned at birth."
After Press introduced his concern, the committee's Chair, Elizabeth Payne, was told by a security officer that the room they were in had reached capacity. As the room only holds 50 people, over 30 parents were present for the committee meeting along with about 30 members of the committee.
Parent Monique Baroudi told The Christian Post that Press suggested the parents should be asked to leave so the meeting could continue, which she saw as an attempt to stifle parental involvement.
But after the parents refused to leave, the meeting was moved to the cafeteria of the school.
The meeting was moved but not before Press and other members of the committee got into a heated exchange after the suggestion was made to kick out the public from the meeting.
PJ Media reports that one parent insisted that the meeting needed to be open to the public, which led to committee member Joan Daly reportedly saying, "It's not a school board meeting where you can sign up to speak."
Another parent named Andrea Bayer reportedly weighed in by saying that it's the committee's "responsibility to have a room that caters to the public."
"You're not allowed to give responses," Press responded to the parent.
Bayer fired back by suggesting that Press shouldn't even be on the committee.
"You're essentially not supposed to be here. Somebody else has your term," Bayer was quoted as telling Press. "And you want to redefine sex, good lord."
Press was appointed to the committee last month after a former member who introduced a motion earlier this year to strike the phrase "sex assigned at birth" from sentences in sixth through eighth grade curriculums was dismissed from the committee.
The former committee member, Laura Hanford, was reportedly dismissed from the committee after the school board member who appointed her had resigned. Her dismissal came at an odd time — about a week before the committee was to consider her proposal to nix "sex assigned at birth" wording.
After being replaced by Press, the committee has not considered Hanford's proposal but has instead passed Press' proposal to expand the use of the phrase "sex assigned at birth" in high school curriculums.
After Bayer's remark to Press, security threatened to call police if she refused to leave. However, she was allowed to stay on the basis that she could not speak.
Once the meeting was moved to the cafeteria, Press formally introduced the motion. Press didn't provide other members of the committee with a courtesy copy of the motion before he introduced it because "he didn't get it out in time."
"I think it is outrageous that, not only are motions that the committee will be voting on not available to the public in advance (a common practice of the school board), it was not even made available to the rest of the committee prior to the meeting so others could formulate opinions or find supporting evidence for a disagreement," parent Hope Wojciech told CP. "I do believe that certain members of the committee are trying to stifle debate on this issue. Dan Press surprising the rest of the committee with his last-minute motion is one way."
Press' motion passed with only three members of the large committee voting against it and no parents allowed to speak out about it during the meeting.
"While the FLECAC meetings are open to the public to attend, it is understood that you are there to observe only and not able to participate in the discussions," Wojciech explained. "Observers are allowed to record the meetings though."
Press' motion comes after controversy brewed in 2015 when the Fairfax County School Board voted to replace biological sex with "gender identity" in official school guidelines. At the time, only one school board member dissented.
As reported, the policy means that boys who self-identify as female have the right to use girls' showers and locker rooms. The policy was voted on without any time for public debate and was enacted within weeks.
"Of course, when they decided to start promoting transgenderism in our schools, they did it all in a rush and they have never held a public forum on this topic," Baroudi, who has three children in the FCPS system, said. "The school board is definitely not providing opportunities for public engagement on this issue."
Baroudi explained that the only substantive opportunity parents have to engage the school board is if they are lucky enough to secure one of 10 speaking spots reserved for members of the public during board meetings. Parents say that requires them to call Monday morning before the meeting at 5:55 a.m. and hope they are one of the 10 callers to land a spot to speak for three minutes during the meeting.
Even then, Baroudi said that the 10 people selected to speak during the meetings are not allowed to ask questions about their own concerns. She said when there aren't 10 members of the public pre-selected before the meeting, the board will allow attendees to sign up to speak at the meeting.
"We have the most restrictive rules for public engagement of any of the school systems that I have researched. From that perspective, yes, they aren't trying to engage with the public," Baroudi explained.
"Loudon County Schools allow the public to ask questions at committee meetings. It is simply a rule of Fairfax County Public Schools that the public is not allowed to speak or ask questions. Even at a school board meeting, you can make a statement but it is not like they respond to any of the questions you have."
Baroudi added that FCPS' public engagement committee is "working to change the rules for public engagement so that you don't even have that ability."
Baroudi said that although the school board will open Press' motion up for public comment before the board votes to enact it, the public comment period really doesn't give much of a voice to the public.
"In the newsletter [emailed to parents], they will announce that there is a public comment period and what the dates of that public comment period are. And that's it. That's that," Baroudi said. "If a parent isn't reading every one of those, they will not even notice there is a public comment period on these changes and it will be voted on before they even know it's happening."