Under a new “model policy” for schools treating transgender students released Friday night, the Department of Education is asking families to submit legal documents to give their children the right to change their name and gender at school. The guidelines also say teachers cannot be forced to address transgender students by their first name and gender if “their constitutionally protected” right to free speech is violated.
The guidelines say schools cannot “encourage or instruct teachers to withhold important information about students, including gender-related information, from their parents” — raising the possibility that teachers may be forced to inform their parents of transgender students.
After a 30-day comment period beginning Sept. 9, school districts must adopt new state guidelines or “more comprehensive policies.” On the 26th, the Ministry of Education said. The Board of Education does not need a vote to pass these policies.
“These 2022 Model Policies reflect the Department of Education’s confidence in parents’ careful exercise of their fundamental rights to guide the parenting, education, and control of their children in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment and the Virginia Constitution,” the guidelines state. “This primary role of parents is well established and undisputed. Empowering parents is critical to improving outcomes for children.”
The model policy reverses the guidelines issued by the governor’s administration in 2021. Ralph Northam (D). The guidelines call for allowing transgender students to use restrooms, locker rooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, stipulate that schools allow students to participate in sports and programs that match their gender identity, and require districts and teachers to accept and use students’ gender pronouns and identity without question.
In their own guidelines, Yankin administration officials wrote that Northam’s guidance was aimed at “cultural and social transformation in schools” and “disregards parental rights.” The Youngkin guidelines state that Northam-era policies are dead: they “have no further force and effect.”
The Northam guidelines are based on a 2020 law proposed by Democratic lawmakers that would require the Virginia Department of Education to develop model policies — which all school districts would later adopt — to protect transgender students. The law does not define the specific nature of these policies, but says they should “address common concerns about transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices” and say they should be designed to prevent bullying and harassment of transgender students.
But — a move that could spark legal challenges — the Yankin government has issued its own version of the Department of Education guidelines using the same law. The 20-page document, released Friday, said it was released “as required by the 2020 legislation.”
The Yankin administration also sought to recapture the period of public scrutiny that Northam-era rules went through. The guidelines are usually posted online for several weeks for the public to share their reactions.
Friday’s filing noted that Youngkin’s guidelines were developed “taking into account the more than 9,000 comments received on Northam-era policies during the public comment period.”
“The 2022 Model Policy released today delivers on the Governor’s commitment to upholding parental rights and maintaining the dignity and respect of all public school students,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a written statement. “It is not within the purview of schools or governments to impose a particular set of ideological beliefs on all students.”
Democratic lawmakers responded quickly.
“These new policies are brutal and have no evidence base at all,” tweet del. Marcus Simon, co-founder of Northam Era Law. “If these policies are enacted it will hurt Virginia’s children. Stop bullying children for political points.”
Allies of the governor applauded the proposal. “thanks @GovernorVA Fixes one of the most excessive and abusive uses of the “model policy” I’ve seen,” tweet Republican Del. Glen Davis. “This new standard ensures that all students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and bullying.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.