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Virginia Beach School Board opts not to adopt Youngkin’s trans students policies

a person wearing a sweater vest and heels sits in an auditorium on their phone. Several other people sit in the surrounding seats
Mechelle Hankerson
High school junior AJ Quartaro told the Virginia Beach school board they're often misidentified and model policies about trans students could make it more common for LGBTQ students.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

AJ Quartaro is preparing for the anxiety of the first day of school as a junior at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach.

It’s not locker combinations or the return of regular homework that’s stressing them out, it’s that they come out as non-binary in each new class.

“The name on the attendance sheet that my teachers usually read is my dead name,” they said. “I don't know what they'll think if I tell them I have a preferred name, tell them I go by different pronouns … I come out to people every day.”

Under policies that weren’t approved by the Virginia Beach School Board, students like Quartaro would have to be identified by their legal name — not a nickname — unless their parents alerted the school in writing of a name change or Quartaro turns 18 years old and alerts the school on their own.

Quartaro is working on a legal name change, with the support and knowledge of their parents.

Virginia Beach’s school board voted down the middle on policies about trans students created and passed down from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration. It means the motion to adopt them wholesale, brought by school board member Victoria Manning, died and the school district won’t adopt Youngkin’s guidelines as-is.

Earlier this year, the school board adopted a resolution reaffirming nondiscrimination for LGBTQ+ students on a similar 6-5 vote, but not before more than a hundred of speakers weighed in and students protested outside a board meeting.

Supporters of Youngkin’s policies said it was important to preserve parents’ right to know about their children and it’s a matter of hierarchy: The local school district shouldn’t ignore what comes from the Governor.

In reality, the state Department of Education is only required to create model policies and districts are legally required to adopt ones that are consistent with, but may not be identical to, the state’s model.

“All 11 members of this board want to keep parents informed, but want to do so in a way that doesn't expose us to litigation, that doesn't expose our teachers to needless and time-consuming clerical work, and in a way that respects the sovereignty of our mature students,” said school board member Staci Martin.

“So we don't have to pass this tonight. We don't even have to pass this in two weeks.”

The Youngkin administration’s model policies include:

  • changing a trans student’s name only if a parent or guardian provides legal documentation of a name change, like an amended birth certificate or court order recognizing the name change.
  • Using pronouns that correspond with a student's sex as it was assigned at birth unless a parent or guardian writes to the school requesting otherwise.
  • Even though students are allowed to use their chosen pronouns under the policy, it does not require district staff or other students to use those pronouns if it would “violate their constitutionally protected rights.”
  • The district won’t enact or create guidance that suggests concealing information about a students’ gender from their parents or guardians.
  • Sex-separated activities (including sports teams) or places, like bathrooms and locker rooms, will be assigned to students based on sex, not gender identity. If schools are compelled by federal law to allow trans students to use the sex-separated facility of their choice, parents of cisgender students can ask that their child have access to different facilities.
  • Students should use bathrooms that correspond to their sex assigned at birth, not gender identity. Schools may make single-user bathrooms available to all students.
  • If students have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, they may seek accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A number of the model policies could force students to come out to adults before they’re ready or require a lengthy and difficult process to confirm their identity. A legal name change, for example, requires a judicial process and a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria often requires access to specialized mental health professionals.
According to the Trevor Project, a leading advocacy group for trans kids, found that more than half of transgender and non-binary children seriously considered suicide in 2022.

In Virginia, 17% of all transgender and non-binary youth attempted suicide in 2022, according to the Trevor Project.

In 2019, the Virginia Department of Health estimated 9% of middle-schoolers attempted suicide and 7% of high-schoolers attempted suicide.

The Trevor Project found LGBTQ+ students were less likely to attempt suicide when their schools acknowledged and protected their identities. The national surveys looked at bathroom access for trans youth, rules around sports teams and the use of preferred pronouns.

“In the perfect world, we would all be equal and I would understand how school is for a normal person, but unfortunately that’s never going to happen,” Quartaro said at the meeting.

“That's why I come here to talk about my experiences, [to] make sure people are aware of the difficulties that trans students go through for those who can't speak up for themselves.”

Youngkin’s policies are an adaptation of policies created by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, which suggested schools should use the gender identity, name and pronouns students prefer.

Youngkin’s policies allow for that, supporters said, they just require documentation and acknowledgement from parents to do so.

Still, opponents said that endangers trans kids who haven’t told anyone about their identity.

“I agree that most parents love their kids, but these policies do not empower good, involved parents that love and support their children,” Matthew Cody Conner said to the school board.

“Those parents don't need a teacher or a principal or a counselor to tell them who their kid is. A child that is safe and seen shows themselves. The 2023 model school policies will only put those children that don't have those good parents in harm’s [way].”

Virginia Beach Public Schools are a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds WHRO’s license.

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