Youngkin prioritizes parents’ choices in newly finalized transgender student policies

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin finalized a model policy regarding transgender children in Virginia’s K-12 schools on Tuesday.

The policy says that public schools should use the names and pronouns that are on their official record, which can only be changed by parents. It defers to the “rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated.” According to the policy, schools should tell parents about any changes to their students’ “well-being,” including their “health, social and psychological development.”

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The new model policy walks back those set by the prior Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration in 2021 that required schools to fully accommodate transgender students and allow teachers and administrators to decide whether or not to inform parents.

“Without a deep reading of the governor’s policies, we can’t comment on specifics,” said Amanda Korman, spokesperson for Charlottesville City Schools. “But we can affirm that we will continue to partner with families and we will continue to fully support our LGBTQ students, staff and families.”

Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools are among Virginia school divisions — just 10% according to Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group — to have adopted the Northam administration policy. Both school systems said they will give further comments on the new model policy in the coming weeks. 

Read the full model policy on transgender students.

School divisions in Virginia must abide by state and federal laws and the Virginia Board of Education but are still given room to construct their own policies. The governor does not have the authority to withhold funding from schools that do not adopt model policies.

Youngkin’s transgender policy has been controversial ever since it was first announced last fall. Shortly after the administration released the first draft, Charlottesville area school districts, students and advocates openly rejected the proposed guidelines. Many students organized walkouts, including groups at Jackson P. Burley Middle School and Charlottesville High School.

Advocates of transgender students say that for many, it’s dangerous to out them to their parents.

“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 draft guidance last year.

Both school divisions commented when the administration released the draft of the policy in September 2022. Albemarle schools released a statement that their board members “respectfully but vigorously disagree” with the draft on Oct. 5. The next day, City Schools sent a letter out to its community saying the draft policy “fails to extend basic respect to transgender and non-binary students is the simple courtesy of calling students by their chosen name.”

Over 70,000 people weighed in during a 30-day comment period.

The model policy also calls on schools to ensure students are placed in activities — including sports, school programs, events and extracurricular activities — by their sex assigned at birth. 

In the model policy, students who are 18 years or older, or emancipated, have the power to choose their own names, pronouns and gender identities at school.

This isn’t the first time Youngkin enacted a policy that Charlottesville and Albemarle school districts have opposed. In Jan. 2022, Youngkin signed an executive order allowing parents to opt out of requirements that students wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, the two districts did not comply with the executive order.

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More about transgender rights and policies