Virginia will block students from accommodating transgender students

In a major rollback of LGBTQ rights, the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) will require that transgender students in Virginia access school facilities and programs that match the sex they were assigned at birth and is making it more difficult for students to change their names and genders at school.

Under new “model policies” for schools’ treatment of transgender students released Friday evening, the Department of Education is requiring that families submit legal documentation to earn their children the right to change names and genders at school. The guidelines also say teachers cannot be compelled to refer to transgender students by their names and genders if it goes against “their constitutionally protected” free speech rights.

And the guidelines say schools cannot “encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender” — raising the prospect that teachers could be forced to out transgender students to their parents.

School districts must adopt the new state guidelines or “policies that are more comprehensive,” after a 30-day comment period that will begin on Sept. 26, the Education Department said. The Board of Education will not have to vote to adopt the policies.

“These 2022 Model Policies reflect the Department’s confidence in parents to prudently exercise their fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Virginia Constitution to direct the upbringing, education, and control of their children,” the guidelines state. “This primary role of parents is well established and beyond debate. Empowering parents is essential to improving outcomes for children.”

The model policies reverse guidelines published in 2021 by the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Those transgender students’ guidelines that allow access to restroom locker rooms that facilities match their gender identities, gender identities, and students that let gender district students and students’ use matching schools and programs matching identities and required students’ genders and teachers pronouns and identities without question.

In their own guidelines, Youngkin administration officials wrote that Northam’s guidance sought “cultural and social transformation in schools” and “disregarded the rights of parents.” The Youngkin guidelines state the Northam-era policies are dead: they “have no further force and effect.”

The Northam guidelines were developed in accordance with a 2020 law, proposed by Democratic legislators, that required the Virginia Education Department to develop model policies — and later required all school districts to adopt them — for the protection of transgender students. The law does not define the specific nature of these policies but says they should “address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices” and says they should be designed to prevent bullying and harassment of transgender students.

But — in a move that is likely to draw legal challenges — the Youngkin administration has used that same law to issue its own version of the Education Department guidelines. The 20-page document released Friday states it is being issued “as required under” the 2020 legislation.

The Youngkin administration is also attempting to repurpose the period of public scrutiny the Northam-era rules were subjected to. Those guidelines, as is typical, were posted for weeks online so the public could share their reactions.

The Friday document states that Youngkin’s guidelines were developed by “taking into account the over 9,000 comments received during the public comment period” for the Northam-era policies.

“The 2022 model policy posted today delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a written statement. “It is not under a school’s or the government’s purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students.”

The reaction from Democratic lawmakers was swift.

“These new policies are cruel and not at all evidence based,” tweeted Del. Marcus Simon, who was a co-sponsor of the Northam-era law. “If enacted these policies will harm Virginia children. Stop bullying kids to score political points.”

Allies of the governor praised the proposal. “Thank you @GovernorVA for fixing one of the most overreaching and abusive uses of a ‘model policy’ that I’ve seen,” tweeted GOP Del. Glenn Davis. “This new standard ensures all students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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