Hours after an LGBT rights group called Equality Virginia began pressuring school districts who have not yet adopted a transgender policy created in 2020 by Democrats, noting that “All local school boards were required to adopt the policy as a baseline,” the administration of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin swapped out the policy referred to by the law with a new one based on parents’ rights.
In 2020, shortly after Democrats took control of the state legislature, they passed a law requiring that school districts adopt policies consistent with a state document called Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. The administration of then-Gov. Ralph Northam created that document. Now, the law itself remains in effect, but the policies it refers to have been replaced by very different ones.
“The 2021 Model Policies promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools. The 2021 Model Policies also disregarded the rights of parents and ignored other legal and constitutional principles that significantly impact how schools educate students, including transgender students. With the publication of the 2022 Model Policies, the Department hereby withdraws the 2021 Model Policies, which shall have no further force and effect,” officials said in the new policy.
Youngkin sailed to victory in 2021 amidst a furor over the state of Virginia’s schools, including The Daily Wire’s revelation that Loudoun County authorities had made false statements about a rape in a school bathroom by a boy wearing a skirt and tried to put the rape victim’s father in jail.
The old model policy said schools should “eliminate gender-based practices” to avoid leaving out transgender students. The policy cited father-daughter dances and homecoming kings and queens as examples. It spelled out how school districts should create gay clubs, allow for transgender students to share bunks with children of the opposite biological sex during sleepaway events, and ordered teachers to be trained to be “LGBT+ affirming.”
“Nonbinary students, as well as transgender students, may use gendered pronouns like she/her/hers or he/him/his, use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them/their or ze/hir/hirs… School divisions should accept a student’s assertion of their gender identity without requiring any particular substantiating evidence,” it said. “A school employee’s intentional and persistent refusal to respect a student’s name and pronoun is considered discriminatory.”
It described how to hide the gender transitioning of children from their parents, saying “a plan may include addressing the student at school with their name and pronoun consistent with their gender identity while using the legal name and pronoun associated with the sex assigned at birth when communicating with parents.”
Other references to parents appeared to refer to using taxpayer money to try to change the social beliefs of adults. It called for “Strategies to engage parents and other stakeholders regarding an inclusive school community that affirms LGBTQ+ students” and promoting “LGBTQ+-affirming resources for students and families.”
The law requires that the model policies be “evidence-based best practices.” The original policy cited that “a recent study found that socially transitioned transgender children who are supported in their gender identity have no elevations in depression and only minimal elevations in anxiety relative to population averages.”
The new policy is far different, citing the U.S. Constitution as evidence. “The First Amendment forbids government actors to require individuals to adhere to or adopt any particular ideological beliefs,” it said. “The U.S. Constitution, the Virginia Constitution, federal law, state law, and relevant case law place beyond debate the rights of parents to be informed about their children and the limitations of government to usurp parents’ rightful role. Additionally, decades of research conducted worldwide has consistently concluded that parental involvement in a child’s education and development is paramount.”
It said a student can only change his or her name with the permission of a parent, and that the “phrase ‘transgender student’ shall mean a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs from his or her sex, that their child be identified while at school.”
“[School Division] personnel shall refer to each student using only (i) the name that appears in the student’s official record, or (ii) if the student prefers, using any nickname commonly associated with the name that appears in the student’s official record,” it said.
It bans teachers from using pronouns or names which are not in the student’s official record, and teachers and other students cannot be compelled to “address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights.” And “No policy, guidance, training, or other written material issued by the [School Division] may encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student’s parent.”
“Overnight travel accommodations, locker rooms, and other intimate spaces used for school-related activities and events shall be based on sex,” the policy said. “For any athletic program or activity that is separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex.”
By law, school districts are required to adopt policies similar to the state model policy, but in the past, some school districts in Democrat-leaning northern Virginia have simply refused to follow the Republican governor’s orders. Even when under the prior governor, they cited state obligations as justification for policies like school closures.
The new document was created under Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Schultz, a Republican who was on the Fairfax County School Board in northern Virginia.