RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration has rewritten Virginia's model policies for the treatment of transgender students, issuing guidance for school divisions that would roll back some accommodations and tighten parental notification requirements.
The new model policies from the Virginia Department of Education, which were posted online Friday, say students' participation in certain school programming and use of school facilities like bathrooms or locker rooms should be based on their biological sex, with modifications offered only to the extent required under federal law. The policies also say that students who are minors must be referred to by the name and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves the use of something else.
Regarding parental notification, the guidelines say school divisions may not encourage teachers to conceal information about a student's gender from his or her parents. And they say parents must be given an opportunity 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 that are “consistent with” the department's but may be “more comprehensive,” the document says.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said in a statement 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 sharp 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." They also said students could participate in programming and access facilities in a manner consistent with their gender identity and urged schools to weigh sharing information about students' gender identity with parents on a “case-by-case” basis, considering the health and safety of students.
The updated guidelines say school divisions must ensure no student is discriminated against or harassed on the basis of his or her sex and should “attempt to 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 should be made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students, the guidelines say.
Conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups welcomed the changes.
“We are thrilled to see Governor Youngkin leading our schools toward respecting the privacy and dignity of all students and the preeminent role of parents in 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 new policy “calls for the misgendering and outing of children in schools where they’re supposed to be safe. 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 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 days to come.”
Virginia's initial guidance was developed in accordance with a bipartisan 2020 law, which required the Department of Education to craft the policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools and make them available to local school boards. The school boards were then directed to adopt policies “consistent with” the state's model policies.
But many school boards never complied, according to a recent analysis by Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group. A Department of Education spokesman told the Virginia Mercury last year the agency was not even tracking which divisions were meeting the standards.
Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press