The Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday announced updated model policies on the treatment of transgender students in Virginia schools. Those new policies that go into effect Wednesday include an emphasis on parental rights and rolling back some of the accommodations allowed during former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
The 2023 model policies “restore parental rights in decision making about their child’s identity,” according to a statement from VDOE.
“These policies provide families the opportunity to weigh in on their child’s decisions and be a partner in their education,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons. “We are elevating parents and giving them a seat at the table.”
“The VDOE updated model policies reaffirm my administration’s continued commitment to ensure that every parent is involved in conversations regarding their child’s education, upbringing, and care,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in statement.
Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement that it is aware of the new policies and is reviewing the document.
“FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member including those who are transgender or gender expansive,” said FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid. “Our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces.”
The model policies are broken down into four key principles:
- Schools shall respect all students;
- Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children;
- Schools shall serve the needs of all students;
- Schools shall partner with parents.
The policies declare that schools will defer to a student’s parent or guardian to make decisions regarding the names, nicknames, and pronouns the student uses while in school. Parents will be notified about matters “related to their child’s health, and social and psychological development,” except for cases in which disclosure would put the child at imminent risk.
Sex-separated school events, programs, and activities, as well as bathrooms and locker rooms, will be determined by the sex assigned at birth rather than gender identity, with exceptions only to the extent required by law. In cases when “state or federal law requires schools to permit transgender students to share otherwise sex-segregated facilities,” parents have the right to opt out.
“There is nothing more important than creating a safe and vibrant learning environment for all our students,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera. “These policies clarify that parents are the appropriate decision makers regarding their child’s health and wellbeing, and that students are best served when parents, teachers, and school administrators work as a team to support a child’s education. They also affirm that discrimination and bullying of any kind will not be tolerated in Virginia’s public schools.”
In comparison, the 2021 model policies stated that students could participate in school sports or activities and use the bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded with their gender identity.
The 2023 policies, first presented by the Youngkin administration in September 2022, created a stir. People wrote letters of opposition and support during a public comment period, and students protested.
“All students in Virginia deserve an education that allows them to learn and grow free from harm; transgender and nonbinary students must be afforded the equal opportunity to learn in a safe and affirming school environment,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “These new model policies do not provide our students with this opportunity and would instead create learning environments that are unsafe, hostile, and dangerous,” the statement said.
A 2020 law said that each school board shall implement policies that are compliant with the state model policies. However, some school boards never implemented the 2021 policies, the Associated Press reported.
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