Updated at 12:45 p.m. — The Arlington County Human Rights Commission contacted Crabb and Johnson minutes ago about their appeal, informing them that reasonable grounds do exist to support allegations of discrimination based on gender. The written decision notes that the “no long dresses” policy is not specific and there are “at least twenty-seven images” on the daycare’s website of girls wearing dresses, including some of similar lengths to the boy’s dress. The commission notes that the boy is the only child who has been disciplined over the policy and that Crabb and Johnson received no warnings or reminders about their son’s dress length. The commission says evidence indicates the boy was expelled as retaliation for his parents speaking up about their child’s dress being removed. The Arlington County Human Rights Commission’s Executive Director has been authorized to initiate “conciliation efforts” between the parties.
Earlier: An Arlington couple is accusing a local daycare of discrimination, saying their young son was kicked out for wearing a dress.
Kristen Johnson and Robin Crabb say their son had been wearing a dress to his daycare, the Arlington Children’s Center near Rosslyn, for several weeks when trouble suddenly broke out in November 2015. Arlington Children’s Center has not responded to ARLnow’s multiple requests for comment, but Johnson and Crabb shared their recollection of the events.
Johnson says last year she went to pick up her then-three-year-old son from daycare when she noticed he was not wearing his dress — which was in the style of Elsa’s dress in the animated movie “Frozen” — over his pants and shirt, as he had been when he was dropped off that morning. When her son said the dress had been taken off of him, Johnson questioned daycare employees about why that had happened.
At first she thought perhaps her son had gotten the dress dirty and staff therefore had to remove it. But staff told Johnson that the daycare center’s owner saw the boy wearing the dress and instructed staff to take it off.
“A teacher said [the owner] was irate when she saw my son wearing a dress,” Johnson says. “My son was essentially kicked out because he was wearing dress.”
She points out that although the boy had been wearing a shirt and pants under the dress because it was cold outside, the dress reportedly was taken off of him in front of the other children at the daycare.
“I said no one should take my son’s clothes off until they talk to my husband or myself first,” Johnson says.
An employee reportedly returned the dress to Johnson in a plastic bag but did not provide any additional information. Johnson requested to speak with the owner and staff said the owner would call her. Johnson says although she became angry at the lack of answers to her repeated questions about why the dress had been removed, she realized she wasn’t making progress and left the daycare without becoming disruptive.
Johnson says once she got home she called the daycare and spoke with the director. She recalls that the director also did not answer questions about the dress removal and told Johnson she would have to speak with the daycare’s owner. Johnson admits becoming frustrated at that point and hanging up on the director. “It was not my best moment, but I did it,” she says.
She received a call from the owner shortly thereafter. The conversation quickly became “animated,” according to Johnson and her husband, Crabb, who joined the call when Johnson grew agitated. The couple repeatedly asked the owner if she instructed staff to remove the dress just because it was on a boy. The owner repeatedly stated that the center had a policy against long dresses for safety reasons. But Crabb believes the owner’s animated response to the questions indicates otherwise.
“If somebody violates a policy against long dresses, you don’t have an emotional reaction like that. You just say they’re not allowed to,” he says.
After more discussion about the long dress policy, the owner reportedly told the couple not to bring their son to the daycare again or employees would call police. The owner told the couple that the boy was expelled because of Johnson’s interactions with staff after discovering the dress had been removed.
Johnson says the expulsion is unjustified on those grounds because she was not inappropriate or aggressive with anyone, other than hanging up on the one employee. She says parents and staff who witnessed her at the daycare center on the day of the dress removal have attested to her appropriate behavior during the incident.
Although the daycare does indeed have a “no long dresses” rule, Crabb and Johnson say, they had never been warned that their son was violating the policy prior to this incident. Additionally, they say that the vague rule does not even state exactly where on a child’s body dresses are allowed to reach or what constitutes a violation.
The boy received the dress as a hand-me-down gift from one of the girls at the daycare. She reportedly had worn the dress at the center on more than one occasion without any repercussions. In fact, the girl was wearing the dress in a photo featured on the daycare’s website (above left).
Crabb and Johnson point out that the dress was longer on the girl than it was on their son; it reached nearly to the girl’s ankles but only mid-calf on the boy (above right). They say other girls also wore dresses longer than their son’s without reprimand, as seen in another photo from the center’s website (below right).
Crabb and Johnson are certain their son was discriminated against for wearing non-gender conforming clothing and took their case to the Arlington County Human Rights Commission earlier this year. The commission investigated the case but did not rule in Crabb and Johnson’s favor.
A spokesperson for the Arlington County Office of Human Rights told ARLnow that all matters it investigates are confidential and it will not discuss them with anyone except the parties directly involved.
The commission’s ruling in the discrimination case was based on a number of factors, according to its final written report. One factor is that the parents did not inform the daycare that their son might have a “gender identity issue.” The commission also decided the dress in question was not related to his gender identity because it is a “costume dress,” and it cited insufficient evidence that the boy wore dresses outside of daycare.
The language is intended to prevent discrimination and harassment against transgender individuals.
The School Board also voted to ensure that all of its employment policies include protection against discrimination based on disabilities, marital status, sexual orientation, economic status and national origin.
“I’m very proud that we have these policies, and we are going to implement it,” said Emma Violand-Sánchez, who was elected as the School’s Board 2015-2016 chair during the meeting. “And that we are going to implement it with students, with the staff, within the hiring process, and I think we have to eliminate bullying, harassment and more than anything enhance the candidates in our school system for employment.”
Including gender identity and expression is in line with the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX, a law that requires schools to provide an equal opportunity learning environment for both genders. Title IX includes gender identity and expression, according to Ellen Kennedy, the director of Employee Relations at Arlington Public Schools.
Complying with the federal government was one reason the board members adopted the new changes. But members also said it was the right thing to do.
“We do not want to put our community, legally, down the road,” outgoing chair James Lander said. “And so, again, in alliance with our County Board colleagues, the state and the federal government, we again are showing progressive leadership.”
The School Board did receive emails about the changes, Lander said. However, many questioned the procedure and not the policy. Residents were worried that the board would make the decision behind closed doors.
There were no public speakers at the meeting, which was a surprise, member Abby Raphael said. However, throughout the process, there had been little dissent from the community or APS employees, Barbara Kanninen noted.
“It was very clear from the beginning we were going to do this,” she said. “I don’t think it was ever an issue of any disagreement in terms of wanting to do this.”
The School Board also updated its bullying and harassment policy today to include protections based on creed and age. The bullying policy, which had last been updated in 2008, already included protections based on gender identity or expression.
Update at 12:40 p.m. — Democratic County Board candidate Christian Dorsey has issued a statement commending the School Board’s action and calling on Arlington County to make similar policy changes. “I urge the County Board to pursue ways to update the County Code to ensure that people are not discriminated against in Arlington based on their gender identity,” he said.
(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The Arlington School Board will consider a proposal to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy for teachers and other employees, ARLnow.com has learned.
The proposal is on the School Board’s consent agenda for its meeting tomorrow morning. The policy would prevent Arlington Public Schools from discriminating against transgender individuals in its hiring process.
“The School Board seeks to employ highly qualified, well trained and committed teachers, administrators and support personnel to fill vacancies, without regard to race, national origin, creed, color, religion, gender, age, economic status, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic information, gender identity or expression, and/or disability,” the proposed policy states.
The policy adds “genetic information” and “gender identity or expression,” while removing “political affiliation or affiliation with an employee organization” from APS’ nondiscrimination hiring goals. Another sentence dealing with politics remains at the end of the policy: “The private, religious and political life of an employee is not a concern of the School Board unless it prevents the employee from performing properly his or her assigned responsibilities during the workday.”
Political affiliation and employee organization affiliation are not currently included in two other policies: APS’ human relations and equal employment opportunity policies. The proposed revisions, meanwhile, add genetic information and gender identity or expression to those policies. The goal is to “align the protected class categories with other School Board polices,” according to a memo from APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy.
Fairfax County made headlines when its school board proposed and then voted to add gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy last month. Some parents said they were concerned that the policy could lead to mixed-sex bathrooms.