Virginia school districts appear primed to buck governor’s proposed transgender policies

·4 min read

Story at a glance

  • At least five Virginia school districts have said they will maintain inclusive learning environments and continue to enforce nondiscrimination policies that protect transgender students after Gov. Glen Youngkin’s (R) administration introduced model policies that roll back certain supports for transgender youth.

  • Under Youngkin’s model policies, Virginia public school students will be required to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their sex assigned at birth and transgender students will need written permission from their parents to change their name or gender designation on school documents.

  • School districts have argued the proposed policies violate their individual nondiscrimination policies, as well as state and federal law.

Several Virginia school districts have pledged to protect young transgender students whose ability to use names and pronouns consistent with their gender identity was made vulnerable last week by a directive from Gov. Glen Youngkin’s (R) administration that rolls back certain supports for the state’s gender diverse youth.

Youngkin’s “2022 Model Policies” mandates all Virginia public school students to use facilities like restrooms and locker rooms that match their sex assigned at birth and requires written permission from a parent or legal guardian for a transgender student to change their name or gender on school forms.

Model policies adopted last year by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) administration allowed students to use school facilities that align with their gender identity and required school districts and teachers to accept a transgender student’s name and pronouns without consent from the student’s family.

According to Youngkin’s directive, those policies “disregarded the rights of parents” and ignored certain legal and constitutional principles that impact how schools are able to educate their students.

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Youngkin campaigned on expanded parental involvement in education while running for governor last year, maintaining that it is the “fundamental right” of parents to make decisions about their children’s schooling. Several other GOP lawmakers at the state and federal level this year have used parental rights as a rallying point to pass legislation that often restricts how LGBTQ+ people navigate their daily lives.

In a letter to staff, students and families on Monday, Melanie Kay-Wyatt, the interim superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools, and Meagan L. Alderton, the districts’ board chair, promised that ACPS will continue to develop and implement policies that affirm the genders of all students.

“As a School Board and division, we are concerned with these ‘model policies’ that do not align with our mission, vision and core values to support all students and staff, in particular our core value of ensuring that we provide a welcoming environment for everyone in our school community,” Kay-Wyatt and Alderton wrote in the letter.

The school district has enforced a policy of nondiscrimination in education since 1996, according to the letter, and gender identity and gender expression have been recognized as protected classes by ACPS since 2013. District officials said they would participate in a public comment period on Youngkin’s model policies, which will open for a period of 30 days beginning Sep. 26.

Similar promises to maintain inclusive learning environments were made this week in messages to parents and students attending Arlington Public Schools (APS), Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS), Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and Prince William County Public Schools.

“Arlington Public Schools continues to support the rights of our transgender, non-binary and gender fluid students and remains committed to providing school environments that are welcoming, safe and supportive for all students,” APS Superintendent Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein wrote Monday in a news release posted to the district’s website.

Durán and Goldstein added that equal educational and nondiscrimination policies adopted by APS to protect transgender students will remain in effect.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, FCCPS School Board Chair Laura Downs and school district Superintendent Peter Noonan said the district is committed to adhering to the Virginia Human Rights Act, which protects against discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s decision in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, which mandates that schools respect a students’ gender identity.

“We believe all students deserve a community that promotes inclusion and celebrates authenticity and assure you that FCCPS will maintain consistency with settled law and our adopted nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies,” Downs and Noonan said in the statement.

Legal experts have said they are doubtful Youngkin’s directive is enforceable under state and federal law.

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