Virginia issues new guidelines that roll back transgender student rights

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration on Friday night released policies that roll back LGBTQ students’ rights in Virginia schools.

The “2022 Model Policies” will require that students use facilities and programs that “match the sex they were assigned at birth,” and require parental permission to change their names and genders at school.

The Virginia Department of Education reviewed the previous “model policies” adopted during former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, and alleged that the policies promoted a “specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools” and disregarded parents’ rights, as well as “legal and constitutional principles.”

“With the publication of these 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools (the ‘2022 Model Policies’), the Department hereby withdraws the 2021 Model Policies, which shall have no further force and effect,” the Department of Education document said.

One of the hot-button issues involved restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that transgender students are allowed to use. The previous 2021 model policies said that transgender students should be allowed to use facilities that matched their gender identities and required that school districts and teachers accept and use students’ gender pronouns and identities.

In the 2022 Model Policies, the word “sex” is defined as biological sex, and the phrase “transgender students” means “a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school.”

That means that schools are supposed to defer to parents on what names, nicknames and pronouns teachers and staff should use when referring to the student; whether the student can get counseling; or whether the student expresses a different gender at school.

The 2022 Model Policies included sample policies and guidelines that Virginia school systems can use. In one of the samples provided, it said that schools cannot make staff refer to transgender students by their names or genders if it goes against the staff member’s “constitutionally protected rights” of free speech.

Last year, Loudoun County teacher Tanner Cross filed a lawsuit after he was suspended, claiming a violation of his free speech during a school board discussion over transgender policies.

Another guideline also said that teachers cannot conceal from parents any material information about a student related to gender.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the new policies saying that they amounted to outing children.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly called the policies a “despicable display of bigotry and ignorance” and a “false promise of protecting Virginia students.”

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers expressed praise for the new policies.

Virginia Senate candidate James Bergida said the new policies regarding transgender students indicate, “That parents matter comes through loud and clear.”

Del. David LaRock thanked Youngkin for his work to “protect kids and defend parental rights.”

Each school board must adopt policies consistent with the 2022 Model Policies. Public comment on the draft model policies will open later this month on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall’s website.

WTOP has reached out to Youngkin’s office for comment.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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