A mandatory, 30-day public comment period for the Youngkin administration’s proposed policies related to transgender students in Virginia opened Monday morning.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 16,000 people weighed in on the Department of Education’s proposal which, if adopted, would serve as a model for school boards across the state to adopt. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policies walk back those set by the prior Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration that require schools to fully accommodate transgender students and allow teachers and administrators to decide whether or not to inform parents.
The new policies would require teachers and other school employees to refer to students by the names and pronouns listed on their birth certificates, unless a parent files a petition. They prevent schools from changing records for trans students, even with parents’ requests. The policies do allow for students to access separate, non-gendered bathroom facilities, but do not allow them to use the gendered bathrooms with which they identify or participate in sports that align with their gender identity. The policy also requires teachers to tell parents about students’ gender identities.
“Mandating staff to out students to their parents puts youth at risk for abuse from unaffirming family members,” a commenter from Charlottesville who attended Albemarle County Public Schools wrote in response to the new guidance.
Several people who work at Charlottesville City Schools have also commented.
“I am a teacher in Charlottesville City Schools and agree with the emphasis on referring to parents for how to support their students,” one wrote.
“We should be expanding rights to our trans and non-binary students through counseling, teacher support and inclusive school environment structures,” said another.
“Far too many times have I had to sit and listen to a student cry because their parents don’t believe who they truly are and it’s heartbreaking,” a third wrote. “I beg our representatives to take a close look at this policy or come into our schools and see for yourselves before taking any action.”
The public comment period will remain open until Oct. 26, then the State Superintendent of Public Instruction will decide whether to officially adopt the policies.
“The instability is what’s really so difficult to navigate,” said Ellen, the mother of a 10-year-old, non-bianary child who attends a Charlottesville public school. (Ellen is not her real name; she asked to use a pseudonym and not to name her child’s school to protect their identity.)
“My concern is that, if the [Northam administration] policies are removed, the teachers and educators are on their own to decide whether or not they support my kid,” she said. “This is a young child saying, ‘This is my name, these are my pronouns.’ And can that just happen? Can my kid just get through the day like everyone else? It’s not knowing what’s going to happen. How much danger are we going to be in? How much are our lives about to change?”
This is a young child saying, ‘This is my name, these are my pronouns.’Mother of non-binary child in Charlottesville school
Ellen is not waiting to find out. As soon as she learned about the proposed policy change, she began reaching out to her child’s principal and teachers to find out where they stood.
The response from the school division has been reassuring, if somewhat vague. That’s because, like Ellen, school officials are waiting to see what will happen with the model policies.
Even if the policies are adopted, politicians and attorneys say they will likely be challenged in court, either for violating the Virginia Human Rights Act or for violating the 2020 law that requires Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to have model policies for transgender students.
“It still looks as if there is a lot that will be sorted out legally before anything like this becomes settled,” said Amanda Korman, a spokesperson for Charlottesville City Schools. “Whatever the case, we will support our transgender students.”
Albemarle County Public Schools’ response was similar.
“School divisions have not been directed by the state superintendent to make any changes to current policies that protect transgender students,” the division said in a prepared statement. “Our division will continue to follow all applicable state and federal laws regarding transgender and gender-expansive students and at this time, our policy protecting these students remains in effect.”
Even if the VDOE adopts the policies and orders school boards do the same, it’s unclear if school divisions will face any repercussions if they don’t follow them.
Charlottesville and Albemarle are among just 10% of Virginia school divisions to have adopted former Gov. Northam’s model policies, according to Equality Virginia, a LGBTQ+ advocacy group. The remaining 90% of divisions have faced no consequences to date for shirking the state mandate.
Read the full guidance and add your point of view by Oct. 26 on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website.