12/6, 7:30 PM: Speaking before the School Board tonight, Janet Moore, a Hampton Roads Pride board member whose son came out as gay while attending Tallwood High, said the worry is that some students will not be able to attend the January event because it begins several hours after school ends.
She condemned the administration for making its decision to postpone the assembly less than 24 hours before it was scheduled, saying the students who planned it for months “didn’t have any time to regroup.”
“It’s unfortunately encouraging misunderstanding and mistrust – a fertilizer for bullying,” she said of the last-minute decision.
12/6, 4:47 PM: Virginia Beach Schools and Cox High School have rescheduled the Gay-Straight Alliance assembly that was supposed to take place Monday.
The after-school assembly, “Love is Love: A Celebration of Gay-Straight Alliance,” will take place January 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Cox High School Auditorium and is open to the public.
The school division also announced it will host a school-wide diversity assembly that is tentatively scheduled for February 24. According to the news release, school counselors will lead a presentation and discussion about respect and inclusiveness. The assembly will include Gay-Straight Alliance students as well as members of other student clubs and representatives from community organizations.
In related news, the ACLU on Tuesday requested documents from the school division about student assembly requests at Virginia Beach high schools.
According to a news release from the ACLU, the request was sent to Superintendent Aaron Spence and asks for access to or copies of records on speakers at school assemblies at the 12 high schools in the city. The request seeks documents between September 2014, and the present. The letter to Spence specifically mentioned documents related to Monday’s canceled assembly.
“We want to look at the School Division’s practices under the assemblies policy to see whether there is any indication that this event was treated differently because of either its sponsorship or content,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, ACLU-VA executive director. “Students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door, and content-based distinctions by the school division in the regulation of student speech would raise significant legal concerns.”
12/5, 4:30 PM: Cox GSA sponsor Victoria Milosevic reported to us this afternoon that she and her students met with the VBCPS SuperintendentDr. Aaron Spence, Vice Superintendent, and Cox High School principal Randi Riesbeck.
She did not provide any details on the possible rescheduling of the GSA assembly.
“My kids were long faced then became excited and hopeful during the conversation,” she said.
In a Facebook post later today, she wrote, “Thank you to all who have written emails, texted and raised your voices to the correct people. I am so grateful for the outpouring of love. In winning we do no learn to be tenacious, yet in setbacks we do.”
12/4/16, 7:40 PM The Virginian Pilot reports that the decision to cancel came after a newly elected School Board member, Victoria Manning, sent an email to Chairman Dan Edwards with a link to a Friday Virginian-Pilot story about the event and said it was “of concern” to her because of when it was supposed to take place.
In Manning’s email, she said that allowing the Gay-Straight Alliance “to hold an assembly during instructional time could set a precedent that other clubs should be allowed to do the same.”
“Additionally, this is a controversial subject and I do not believe it is appropriate to hold a gay pride event during instructional time,” Manning wrote. “I fully support the gay club holding meetings after school but not during instructional time.”
“I would like to ask that this issue be addressed before the event on Monday,” she wrote.
12/4/16, 5:54 PM Gay Virginia Beach School Board member Joel McDonald released this statement:
ON THE CANCELLATION OF THE GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCE ASSEMBLY AT COX HIGH SCHOOL
On November 28th I was invited by the sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Cox High School inviting me attend the club’s student-led assembly on December 5th. My understanding was that the subject of the assembly would be on the serious concern of bullying in our schools. I accepted the invitation, as I am committed to supporting the efforts of our GSA clubs throughout Virginia Beach in helping our schools be safer, more inclusive, and welcoming places for our students.
Due largely to, in my opinion, headlines and reporting calling this a “gay pride” assembly, concerns were expressed within and to the school board and to the administration. While those sharing their concerns expressed support for efforts against bullying in our schools, they also opposed the GSA at Cox High School leading efforts. Some opposed on the grounds that student clubs shouldn’t be hosting assemblies during school hours. Others felt allowing the assembly would mean “normalizing” the sexual orientation or gender identity of our LGBT students and LGBT community as a whole. The latter concern underscores the need for the conversation that would have been had at the assembly.
Division administration determined that it would be inappropriate to “interrupt instructional time for student-organized clubs to lead assemblies as this would open a broad door for such opportunities for other student organized clubs.” While I believe that the content of the assembly would have been valuable, I can understand this determination and support it. The Cox High School GSA were invited to host their event after school.
The issues that were to be addressed at the assembly are still important and still need to be addressed. I applaud the Cox High School GSA for trying to take the lead on this conversation, and hope that these students will be invited to participate in the broader conversation on tolerance, bullying, and inclusiveness at future school sponsored events.
12/4/16, 5:12 PM: The Virginian Pilot reported that Eileen M. Cox, school division spokesperson, said the event was postponed “in order to give school organizers, led by school counselors, an opportunity to involve a variety of student and community groups interested in being part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance for all people.”
“The decision to postpone was made in an effort to be more inclusive of all groups and students, not to marginalize any particular student, group or organization,” Cox said. “School administrators plan to meet with the student organizers Monday to discuss this matter further and apologize for the error.”
According to the Virginia Beach Public Schools policies and regulations, the school board encourages the use of auditoriums, gymnasiums and other areas of school property “provided it does not interfere with regular school functions and operations and provided it does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sex, age, race, color, religion, disability, political affiliation or national origin in the provision of any service.”
Cox said student-led meetings and events like the gay pride assembly, which raise awareness by about their organization or area of interest, should be scheduled after school to avoid the loss of instructional time.
“In this instance, it was simply a mistake to allow the club to move forward with planning its event during the school day,” she said.
12/4/16, 3:20 PM: Outwire757 received word this afternoon that the Cox High School Gay Straight Alliance Student Assembly scheduled for tomorrow was abruptly cancelled by the Virginia Beach School Superintendent’s Office.
The reason given to the school principal, Randi Riesbeck, is that school clubs are not allowed to meet during regular school hours. The decision came after weeks of planning and coordination between the GSA, the Riesbeck, and the Superintendent’s office.
GSA faculty coordinator Victoria Milosevich tells us that the club was given two options to move forward: hold the assembly after school hours so that it conforms to regular club meeting guidelines; or hold an inclusive assembly during school hours that addresses the needs of all groups that feel unaccepted.
Milosevich plans to meet with her GSA student members tomorrow to address future options. If you would like to post comments of support for her students here, and she will read them at tomorrow’s meeting.