Youngkin Administration Overhauls Virginia Transgender Student Policies

Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration quietly released a document Friday overhauling Virginia’s policy on the treatment of transgender students, citing “parental rights.”

The “Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” published by the Virginia Department of Education will direct local school boards to adopt a slate of new policies for the treatment of transgender students that represent a sharp reversal from the stance the state took under former Gov. Ralph Northam and a Democrat-dominated legislature.

While Friday’s guidance notes that “schools should attempt to accommodate students with distinctive needs, including any student with a persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs from his or her sex,” it also emphasizes what it describes as parents’ “fundamental rights.”

The new policies require parental approval for any changes to students’ “names, nicknames, and/or pronouns,” direct schools to keep parents “informed about their children’s well-being,” specify that student participation in activities and athletics shall be based on sex and state that “students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.”

“The First Amendment forbids government actors to require individuals to adhere to or adopt any particular ideological beliefs,” the new guidance reads. “Practices such as compelling others to use preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief that gender is a matter of personal choice or subjective experience, not sex. Many Virginians reject this belief.”

Furthermore, the policy continues, “the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom and prohibits compelling others to affirm ideas that may be contrary to their personal religious beliefs.”

A 30-day public comment period on the policies is expected to open Sept. 26, after which they will go into effect.

The new policies overturn guidance laid out by a Democrat-backed 2020 law that required school districts to uphold student privacy about their transgender status, use pronouns and names requested by students and allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms that aligned with their gender identity.

The model policies developed as a result of the 2020 law got a mixed reception from school districts, many of which refused to formally adopt them.

Youngkin has been critical of those policies, arguing parents should be informed about students’ gender identity or sexual orientation.

“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,” said spokesperson Macaulay Porter in a statement.

“It is not under a school’s or the government’s purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students,” she said. “Key decisions rest, first and foremost, with the parents. The previous policies implemented under the Northam administration did not uphold constitutional principles and parental rights, and will be replaced.”

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, one of the sponsors of the 2020 law, on Friday called the new policies “another cruel attempt on the part of the Youngkin administration to use these kids in their culture wars and to bully them to score political points.”

Simon said the 2020 law gave VDOE the authority to adopt policies “within certain parameters,” but not a “blank check to write whatever policies.”

Republican-aligned parent group Fight for Schools and the Family Foundation, a conservative Christian led group, both of which have been critical of the state’s earlier policies on transgender students, applauded the draft policies.

“The Virginia Department of Education’s new model policy restores parental rights, protects the First Amendment rights of teachers and students, while also providing all students the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying,” Fight for Schools said in a statement.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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