Virginia school district moves to restrict bathroom, locker room access for transgender students

·3 min read

Story at a glance

  • A central Virginia school board is reviewing a policy that would require transgender students to obtain written permission to use school bathrooms, locker rooms or other gender-separated facilities that match their gender identity.

  • Students may be asked to submit signed statements from family members and doctors certifying their gender identity, according to the policy. They may also be required to produce their disciplinary or criminal records.

  • School boards in Virginia were required beginning last year to implement more gender-inclusive policies.

A policy under consideration in a central Virginia school district would require transgender students and their families to obtain written permission from the school principal to use facilities like restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

Administrators may ask transgender students to provide documentation that certifies their “persistently and insistently expressed” gender identity, as well as signed statements from the students’ families and doctors, according to the policy currently under review by the Hanover County School Board.

Should the policy be adopted, students may also be asked to provide their disciplinary or criminal records in order to use the appropriate bathroom or changing room – a clause which those in favor of the measure said would help keep those facilities safe.

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Proponents of similar measures in other states have suggested that more lenient policies could encourage cisgender male students to harm their female classmates in places like restrooms by pretending to identify as transgender.

A 2019 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the opposite is more likely true, and 26 percent of transgender middle and high school students surveyed by researchers at Harvard University said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed in the last year. Among students whose schools had restrictive bathroom and locker room policies, 35 percent reported being assaulted or harassed.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 18 states – including Virginia – have laws in place that prohibit discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just two states – Missouri and South Dakota – have enacted laws that prevent individual schools or school districts from adding LGBTQ+ protections to nondiscrimination policies, and three states – Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma – have banned transgender students from using facilities consistent with their gender identity altogether.

The Human Rights Campaign last week filed a lawsuit against Tennessee’s “bathroom bill,” alleging it violates transgender students’ constitutional rights and singles them out for “disfavored treatment.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia called Hanover County School Board’s proposed policy discriminatory and invasive.

“This is not just about bathrooms or locker rooms,” Breanna Diaz, policy and legislative counsel at the ACLU of Virginia, said Wednesday. “It’s about the right of transgender students to exist in public spaces without having to justify or explain themselves.”

“Yet, the Hanover County School Board’s proposed policy seeks to do just that by imposing an invasive policy that will deter youth from accessing school facilities,” Diaz said, and urged the school district to adhere to model policies put forward by the Virginia Department of Education in 2020.

The department’s model policies for the treatment of transgender public school students provide evidence-based recommendations intended to foster an inclusive learning environment, including guidelines for name and pronoun usage and access to school facilities and sports teams.

All school boards were required to adopt policies consistent with the model policies by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

According to the ACLU of Virginia, while the Hanover County School Board did implement some of the required policies, it declined to address restroom or locker room access for transgender students.

A vote on the proposed policy is expected to take place at a special school board meeting at the end of the month.

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