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Outed Chesterfield student worried about Youngkin’s draft transgender policy

Ruby Simonpietri standing, arms crossed
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
Last year, Clover Hill High School senior Ruby Simonpietri decided to change their name and didn’t tell their parents for fear they wouldn’t be supportive.

There’s still no update in the Virginia Department of Education’s revision of model policies governing the treatment of transgender students in schools. According to the department’s website, “VDOE is currently reviewing public comment” following an onslaught of comments that poured in last year amid student walkouts statewide over the policy.

It goes on to state that “the model policies will become effective when finalized by the superintendent of public instruction.” VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle did not respond to questions about the timeline by deadline Wednesday.

That leaves students like Clover Hill High School senior Ruby Simonpietri nervous about their own safety in school, as well as the safety of other students. Simonpietri identifies as genderfluid and uses they/them pronouns.

Last year, Simonpietri decided to change their name to Ruby and didn’t tell their parents for fear they wouldn’t be supportive. Simonpietri worried their parents might contest the name change in court, another reason they kept quiet about it.

But last fall — before Simonpietri got circuit court verification that the name change had gone through — Simonpietri’s longtime school counselor sent an email to their mother alerting her that Ruby had stopped using their deadname and was in the middle of legally changing their name.

Ruby Simonpietri was incredibly uncomfortable and upset when they found out about the email.

“It was really disappointing because it's hard to trust people sometimes nowadays. I had put a bit of trust in this person,” they said. “At some point, I think it's kind of negligent. And that's kind of what I'm trying to focus on here is I want to get rid of that negligence.”

Simonpietri asked that the counselor’s name not be published, because they don’t think the counselor meant to “out” them — and because it’s not about this one person’s action, but ensuring that what occurred doesn’t happen to other students.

The Clover Hill High counselor, Principal John Phillips and school district spokesperson Shawn Smith did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. Simonpietri said they met with Principal Phillips about the incident and that he seemed receptive to their concerns.

“I said at the end of the meeting that I wanted to continue working with him, figuring out what we need to do at our school in order to protect students further, and create a more open environment for LGBTQ+ people,” Simonpietri said. “And I feel like that message went across pretty well.”

But Simonpietri still worries that if Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s draft policy goes into effect as currently written, the harm to other students will be significant.

“I had a few people who told me they would likely leave their house and flee from their parents, because they would get really abusive because of it,” Simonpietri said. “And that's a really sickening thing to see for me. And that's why I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to make sure that this policy does not go into place, because it's just going to hurt so many people.”

Shekila Melchior, a professor at George Mason University and school counselor who helped write the original model policies document under former Gov. Ralph Northam, told VPM News last year that Youngkin’s proposed policy is harmful. She said some sections even go against the counselor’s ethical code.

“Based on our ethical code, we don't break confidentiality unless the child is at risk to themselves or someone else,” Melchior said at the time.

She added that the ethical code talks about prioritizing the needs and safety of students, a focus she said is missing from Youngkin’s draft policy. For example, the draft policy states that “school should defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children,” including what names should be used at school.

Melchior said counselors want parents involved, but that “unfortunately, we cannot always guarantee that the parent is supportive. So part of the ethical code is to safeguard the children who may not have those supportive parents.”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.