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State education department issues new policies for trans students

Gov. Gleen Youngkin Speaks at a podium with microphones
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters outside of Virginia's Executive Mansion in August 2022.

The guidelines echo Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push for parents’ rights.

Editor’s note: VPM News and Staff Reporter Ben Paviour filed suit in January in Richmond City Circuit Court against the Virginia Department of Education for public release of these policies in draft form. VPM News and Paviour were represented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Read more about the case.

The Virginia Department of Education issued new guidance regarding transgender students, echoing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s focus on parental rights.

VDOE’s “Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” was uploaded to its website Tuesday, laying out statewide expectations for division-level actions when a student’s gender expression does not match their biological sex.

The guidelines, which need to be approved at a district level by individual school boards, follow four main tenets:

  • “Schools shall respect all students.”
  • Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children, including being informed about their “child’s health, and social and psychological development.”
  • “Schools shall serve the needs of all students.”
  • Schools shall partner with parents as “a child’s primary and most important educator.”

Notably, the document states that these policies allow school staff to keep parents “fully informed” about their children's nicknames, preferred pronouns, school counseling or social transitioning when it differs from their biological sex as well as gender expression that differs from a student's biological sex.

It defines a transgender student as “a public school student whose parent has stated in writing that the student’s gender differs from the student’s sex, or an eligible student who states in writing that his or her gender differs from his or her sex.”

Eligible students are defined as “a student or former student who is 18 years of age or older or a student under the age of 18 who is emancipated.”

When transgender students attend schools that follow these policies, staff should recognize those students as having a distinctive need and “collaborate with the student’s parents or with an eligible student to identify and implement such reasonable accommodations or modifications (if any), considering the resources and staff available in the school and school divisions, as well as the rights and needs of other students and of school staff.”

As VPM News has reported, previous draft policies were subject to public comment and were optional for school divisions. It was not immediately clear how these policies, which VDOE’s website said take effect July 18 and “replace all previously published versions,” were approved. (The document itself indicates the policies take effect July 19.)

A statement from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office on the new policies said, “The Department of Education has delivered policies that empower parents, prohibit discrimination, create a safe and vibrant learning environment by addressing bullying incidents immediately, and protect the privacy and dignity of all students through bathroom policies, athletic procedures, and student identification measures.”

In response to the proposed model policies, Equality Virginia — a group aiming to protect and expand the rights of the LGBTQ+ community — issued a statement from its executive director.

“This comes on the heels of a scathing 18-month report released last week by [the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission] that detailed how Virginia is underfunding its K-12 public schools at a lower rate than national and regional averages,” Narissa Rahaman said in the release. “Instead of addressing the very real issues we have ahead of us, Governor Youngkin’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 Family Foundation — a faith-based organization — also issued a statement, following the policies’ release.

“We are thankful Governor Youngkin reaffirmed his commitment to provide better guidance to Virginia school boards about transgender issues that is more in alignment with statutory provisions and legal precedence affirming parental rights,” said Dr. Todd Gathje, vice president of government relations. “Now, we call on school boards to begin replacing the policies they set in place under the old guidelines, with the improved guidance that is parent centered.”

The document states that local school divisions "must adopt policies that are, at a minimum, consistent with" its policies and offers a fill-in-the-blank draft version. It does not appear to include an enforcement mechanism, a time limit or obvious penalties.

Previous coverage of the trans model policy

Dawnthea M. Price Lisco (dawn-TAY-uh, she/her) is the managing editor at VPM News.
VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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