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Virginia governor seeks to roll back transgender student protections

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Virginia Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin greets visitors in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, on December 18, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.

Al Drago | Getty Images

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has rewritten Virginia’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students, issuing guidance for varsity divisions that may roll back some accommodations and tighten parental notification requirements.

The brand new model policies from the Virginia Department of Education, which were posted online Friday, say students’ participation in certain school programming and use of faculty facilities like bathrooms or locker rooms ought to be based on their biological sex, with modifications offered only to the extent required under federal law. The policies also say that students who’re minors should be referred to by the name and pronouns of their official records, unless a parent approves using something else.

Regarding parental notification, the rules say school divisions may not encourage teachers to hide details about a student’s gender from his or her parents. They usually say parents should be given a possibility to object before counseling services pertaining to gender are offered.

The guidance is subject to a 30-day public comment period that opens later this month. Then, in accordance with a 2020 state law, local school boards must adopt policies which are “consistent with” the department’s but could also be “more comprehensive,” the document says.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said in a press release that the updated policy “delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students.”

The revisions mark a pointy departure to guidance that was first issued in 2021 during Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. Those guidelines said schools should let students use names and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without “any substantiating evidence.” Additionally they said students could take part in programming and access facilities in a way consistent with their gender identity and urged schools to weigh sharing details about students’ gender identity with parents on a “case-by-case” basis, considering the health and safety of scholars.

The updated guidelines say school divisions must ensure no student is discriminated against or harassed on the idea of his or her sex and will “try and accommodate students with distinctive needs, including any student with a persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs from his or her sex.”

Single-user bathrooms and facilities ought to be made available in accessible areas and supplied with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students, the rules say.

Conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups welcomed the changes.

“We’re thrilled to see Governor Youngkin leading our schools toward respecting the privacy and dignity of all students and the preeminent role of oldsters within the lives of their children,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation.

Democrats, the Virginia Education Association and LGBTQ advocacy groups, meanwhile, criticized Youngkin, saying the changes would harm vulnerable children.

The brand new policy “calls for the misgendering and outing of kids in schools where they’re imagined to be protected. Absolutely shameful,” tweeted Democratic Del. Mike Mullin. Senate Democrats, in a collective statement, called the move “an outright violation of Virginians’ civil rights” and said it perpetuated “the national MAGA playbook of obliterating any inference of diversity, equity, or inclusion in our communities.”

Some LGBTQ advocates suggested the changes could possibly be contested in court. The ACLU of Virginia said it was “appalled” by the overhaul, was reviewing the proposal and would have “more to say in the times to return.”

Virginia’s initial guidance was developed in accordance with a bipartisan 2020 law, which required the Department of Education to craft the policies regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools and make them available to local school boards. The varsity boards were then directed to adopt policies “consistent with” the state’s model policies.

But many school boards never complied, in keeping with a recent evaluation by Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group. A Department of Education spokesman told the Virginia Mercury last yr the agency was not even tracking which divisions were meeting the standards.

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