Chesterfield’s population rises 15%, school board requires masks, approves transgender policy

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Chesterfield County grew 15.3 percent from 2010 to 2020 according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Chesterfield’s growth rate topped Richmond (11) and Henrico (6), but trailed some fast-growing Northern Virginia counties such as Loudoun (34.8), Stafford (21) and Prince William (20).

In fact, Loudoun grew so fast it overtook Chesterfield as the state’s fourth-largest locality, behind Fairfax, Prince William and Virginia Beach.

The population growth in Northern and Central Virginia will result in a shift of state representation from Southwestern and Southern Virginia. The 16-person independent redistricting commission is working on redrawing boundaries that will go into effect next year.

The state as a whole saw a population increase of 7.9 percent, slightly higher than the national average of 7.4 percent.

School board adopts policies

On Aug. 10, the Chesterfield County Public Schools Board approved a policy that required all students (with exceptions) to wear a mask beginning the first day of school, Aug. 23.

County staff reported that the case rate per 100,000 people was at 158 on Aug. 10, but it had fallen to 119 as of Aug. 22. The virus positivity rate among those who took COVID-19 tests was 8.76 percent on Aug. 10.

“We have to make sure schools stay open,” board chair Ryan Harter (Matoaca) said.

During public comment, Carolyn Ferraro read a letter from local attorney Tonia Peake in which she noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made recommendations, not mandates.

Dale board member Debbie Bailey said she could find information to support almost any belief about the subject.

The board on June 1 adopted the first reading of a new policy that requires transgendered students to be able to use the restrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their identities. On Aug. 10, the board voted 4-0 for the policy’s second reading, with Bermuda board member Ann Coker abstaining.

Coker said she “completely supports transgender rights and the right to assert their identity,” but added that there is not enough parental involvement and employee flexibility in the policies for those who have moral issues with it.

Coker asked the school system’s chief operations officer Josh Davis about increasing privacy in restrooms and locker rooms. Davis said he is considering adding partitions to restrooms as long as there is 18 inches of clearance for fire sprinklers and enough lighting. Davis also said he is “looking at” procuring portable screens for locker rooms.

School spokesman Shawn Smith noted the transgender policy was required by the state education department, which followed on the heels of a new state law passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

A July 27 ruling by Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge James F. Watson said that parents do not have legal standing to challenge the department of education’s transgender model policy.

However, according to CourthouseNews.com, Assistant Attorney General Melissa Charnes said there’s no enforcement mechanism in the model policy statute, meaning that a school board could not be punished for failure to pass such policies.

“Will the state come after a school board’s funding if they don’t pass these policies,” Watson asked. “No,” Charnes replied.

Russell County and Newport News’ school boards voted to not approve such policies, although Newport News is scheduled to reconsider the issue.

As it relates to students’ preferred pronoun usage, Ferraro said such a policy violates constitutional protections of speech and religion. She said the school system’s transgender policy 1015 undermines Title 9 in regard to girls’ sports.

Clover Hill board member Dot Heffron said the school board addressed the mask and transgender policy issues “with equity and safety. I’m really proud of the work we did today.”

Heffron called the 4-hour, 37-minute meeting “a marathon.”

The board’s next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14.

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