Zach Coltrain spent a lot of time at the Virginia Beach school board before he graduated high school in 2020, accepting awards and recognition for his academic and extra-curricular achievements. Now, “as a gay student and alumni of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools system,” Coltrain was “sickened” at the prospect of his former school district adopting a “worst-case” parental rights resolution.
He stood up and spoke out.
I made a speech to the Virginia Beach City Public School Board last night against a resolution that would out students interested in books with gay characters, and would force teachers to send permission slips home before their kids can read in-class novels. It feels dystopian. pic.twitter.com/Sacn1FBqQC
— zach coltrain (@ZachColtrainVB) September 14, 2022
“This resolution does nothing to better education standards for students, it creates logistical nightmare-level obstacles, and it risks the safety of some of VBCPS’ most vulnerable students. I strongly urge you all to vote down this mess.”
The resolution authored by board member Laura Hughes mandated the school district “shall develop a system where parents receive an email when their students check out a book from the library,” and provided “all schools require a signature before any book is distributed in class,” giving parents the option to veto required class reading they find objectionable.
Coltrain broke it down point by point.
First, he took issue with the resolution’s assertion in the preamble, “Whereas the single most important indicator of student success is parental involvement.”
“Passing legislation that cements the importance and priority of parental involvement disregards any and all students whose parents can’t make that commitment to education,” said Coltrain. “Singling out students whose parents can’t prioritize their children’s education standards at all times is a sad but true result of some of the economic disparity issues within our community.”
Second, Coltrain took aim at the parental signature requirement for books distributed in class.
“Looking at how many issues arise from permissions slips for field trips, federal cards, beginning of the year paperwork stacks, and all else, teachers do not need the extra work, students don’t need the extra responsibility, and parents certainly do not need to be the reason a student loses educational value from their teacher and classroom because a piece of paper gets stuck in a student’s backpack. This is not practical.”
Last, Coltrain went after, “Point 3, oh boy. ‘Virginia Beach City Public Schools shall develop a system where parents receive an email when their students check out a book from the library.’ Without rehashing the fact that no one needs or wants this,” Coltrain said, he wanted to “highlight the absolute necessity of protecting students wanting to learn about personal, academic or any other topic of importance. Students who read a book about being queer or wanting to ski makes no difference.”
“I came out at the age of 12, because my school made me feel comfortable enough to discover and display that about myself,” Coltrain said. But plenty of people “don’t, and won’t have that luxury. Forcing students into that situation can compromise quality of life dramatically. This resolution creates that scenario guaranteed.”
Coltrain was applauded for his concise, and heartfelt, advocacy.
After a contentious meeting, Hughes’ original parental rights resolution was voted down, and a compromise version, without the parental notifications, was adopted. It did, however, keep language from the preamble that Coltrain objected to, leaving the former student a fight for another day.
He could have a chance soon enough. Coltrain is running to become the youngest representative ever elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.