In a move that took fewer than 10 minutes and attracted only two speakers, the Manassas Park City School Board voted unanimously Monday to expand its nondiscrimination policy to protect gay and transgender students and staff members.

The Feb. 26 vote added the terms “gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation” to the school division’s existing nondiscrimination policy, which already protected students and staff from discrimination based on a long list of criteria, including “age, sex, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, ancestry, marital status, genetic information, pregnancy, status as a parent, political affiliation, childbirth or related medical conditions, veteran status, or any other basis prohibited by law.”

Both speakers, Del. Danica Roem (D), whose 13th District includes Manassas Park, and Brian Pace, co-founder of Equality Prince William, voiced support for the change.

Roem thanked the board for affirming “it’s ok” for students and staff “to be themselves.”

“Because they’ll know that you, the people in charge, have their backs,” Roem said. “To see it codified as a matter of public policy, every student and staff member will know that no matter what they look like, where they come from, where they worship or who they love, that they are welcome, celebrated, respected and now protected.”

Before the vote, School Board Chairman Rachel Kirkland said her fellow board members “feel it’s a right for everyone in Manassas Park City Schools not to be discriminated against.”

The school division culture, she said, already reflects the policy change.

“This is a paper exercise,” Kirkland said. “… So, it’s not putting a policy in place to put us somewhere where we want to be. It’s putting a policy in place that reflects who we are as a community.”

The situation was markedly different from the months-long, politically charged debate around a similar policy change approved by the Prince William County School Board last June.

The Prince William vote was initially delayed for eight months and attracted more than 600 people to the school division’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center back in September 2016, first time it was up for a vote. Some opponents of the policy change, first proposed by School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers, had launched an ongoing campaign to recall Sawyers from office by November 2016.

During that September 2016 meeting, the Prince William School Board put off their vote until their last meeting of the school year, which took place June 21, 2017.

The school board’s effort was ultimately successful, but passed without the support of the Republican-endorsed board members, including Willie Deutsch (Coles), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and acting-member Shawn Brann (Brentsville).

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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