This week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Department of Education released a new model policy regarding how transgender students should be treated in K-12 schools.
The Youngkin administration’s new model education policy regarding transgender kids comes 10 months after the release of a draft version, which sparked student walkouts, was criticized by LGBTQ+ advocates, and drew more than 77,000 public comments.
The model policies are in their third iteration in as many years and roll back former Gov. Ralph Northam’s policies, which required schools to use students’ preferred pronouns and allowed students to use facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities, rather than their sex assigned at birth.
These education policies do not immediately affect local school divisions, but are instead intended to be models for policies individual districts can adopt.
The finalized policy is similar to the September version, but much of the divisive language has been cut, including a scientifically outdated focus on “biological sex.”
One area where the finalized policy differs from the draft version: students with a diagnosis of medical gender dysphoria can request accommodations through a school ADA coordinator, and parents can opt their children out of being required to use “sex-segregated” facilities.
Driving much of the concern over the new model policies is where they mirror the draft proposal, such as allowing school staff to keep parents fully informed about their children’s “nicknames,” pronouns, or elements of social transitioning that may occur at school.
In addition to the policy’s dismissal of students’ identities, advocates worry these policies might enable schools to “out” trans and nonbinary students to potentially unsupportive or abusive parents.
Advocacy group Equality Virginia issued a statement on Twitter criticizing the policies. Among their criticisms are that the policies were written without consulting LGBTQ+ advocacy groups or experts. Equality Virginia also criticized the administration for its lack of focus on “real issues.”
“This comes on the heels of a scathing 18-month report released last week by JLARC that detailed how Virginia is underfunding its K-12 public schools at a lower rate than national and regional averages,” the statement reads. “Instead of addressing the very real issues we have ahead of us, Governor Younkin’s response is to escalate a culture war and drop a policy that harms kids, removes resources for teachers and ignores the rights of parents in Virginia.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization spearheading the nationwide wave of anti-transgender legislation in statehouses, supports the Youngkin administration’s new education policies.
Beatrice Stotz, a trans woman, graduated from Fairfax High School this year and had a hand in organizing her school’s walkout after the draft policies came out in September.
“I like to think that we at least sent a message that the students do not support this, and that we will continue to fight for the rights of our trans peers even as these policies are implemented,” Stotz said.
Stotz said her experience in Fairfax County Public Schools was positive as it relates to her gender identity because was supported by her teachers and school staff — but that experience might not be the same in other parts of the state, especially in districts that adopt these policies.
“I’m empathetic to the trans students who will have to navigate this increasingly unclear and uncertain minefield of legislation in school,” Stotz said. “You know, the questions of, ‘Will I be accepted by my parents? Will I be accepted by the staff?’ All while managing gender dysphoria, dealing with parents, and all the other toils of high school life.”