Virginia Model Policy For Schools aims to Roll Back Freedoms For Transgender Students
A new policy for Virginia schools is making the rounds among local school boards, and it’s one that aims to roll back freedoms for transgender students. It comes from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration and the Virginia Department of Education.
It’s an updated version of policies implemented by former Gov. Ralph Northam that drew criticism, public comment and student walkouts.
Parental Permission Required
The model policies released this week by the state’s Department of Education impose restrictions on transgender students, including requiring them to use facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex and barring them from changing their names or pronouns without parental permission. They are similar to a draft version released last fall that sparked tens of thousands of public comments and student walkouts.
“Governor Youngkin and the VDOE blatantly ignored the voices of thousands of Virginians who submitted public comments in opposition to his ill-advised model policies,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “These draconian model policies single out transgender students, threaten their safety and well-being, and roll back recent civil rights gains.”
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The policies say students’ participation in school activities should be based on their biological sex, and says student bathrooms must be designated based on sex. It also states that students’ personal pronouns should be determined by their biological sex.
The ACLU said the 2023 model policies could lead to discrimination against transgender students in schools, where they might be subjected to bullying and harassment, especially if teachers don’t know which bathroom is appropriate. The organization also said the policies would likely violate state and federal laws, including a Virginia High School League policy that bars discrimination against athletes based on gender identity.
The Youngkin administration’s release of the new guidelines flies in the face of months of opposition and shows that it is more interested in manufacturing political outrage than listening to the majority of Virginians, including experts on this issue such as transgender youth themselves. The ACLU of Virginia is analyzing the new guidelines and will be monitoring how local school boards implement them.
When the Virginia Department of Education issued the model policies in 2021, they met with fierce opposition from both supporters and opponents. Among supporters of the new guidelines are Governor Glenn Youngkin and the Family Foundation, which says that the model policies affirm parents’ rights while prohibiting discrimination against students. The new guidelines allow school staff to keep parents “fully informed” about a student’s nickname, preferred pronoun or social transitioning, as well as their gender identity and sex that differs from their biological sex.
The policies also allow parents to opt out of allowing their children to participate in sex-specific activities, including athletics and school extracurriculars. A nonbinding legal analysis from the state attorney general concludes that the policies are in line with federal and state anti-discrimination laws. But some local school boards have said they will defy the guidance. Several districts in red-leaning areas have already adopted policies that align with Youngkin’s, while others in blue-leaning areas have stated they will not follow the model policy.
RICHMOND — Thousands of Virginia students walked out of school in September to protest Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to roll back protections for transgender and non-binary students. The governor’s revised model policies, which went into effect this month, ask schools to refer to students by the names and pronouns reflected in their legal documents from birth unless parents submit new documentation. They also require students to use facilities that match their biological sex.
The policy is a tweak of 2022 models that prompted similar student walkouts, but the revisions make it clear that Youngkin’s administration is targeting transgender and non-binary students. They also require schools to notify parents before offering counseling services for gender identity issues.
The policy will harm the mental health of transgender and non-binary kids, experts say. It sends a message to transgender and non-binary children that their lives don’t matter, says Stephen Forssell, professor of psychology and brain sciences at George Washington University.