Transgender students face new pressure in this state. But schools vow their support

New Virginia K-12 policy defines "sex” strictly as "biological" and prevents transgender students from requesting preferred pronouns.

A handful of Virginia districts are vowing to defend transgender students after state officials announced new K-12 gender identity restrictions.

“Arlington Public Schools continues to support the rights of our transgender, non-binary, and gender fluid students and remains committed to providing school environments that are welcoming, safe and supportive for all students,” the district’s superintendent and school board president wrote on the Washington, D.C.-area district’s website. The joint statement came about 48 hours after the state released its “Model Policies for Privacy, Dignity and Respect,” which defines “sex” strictly as “biological” and prevents transgender students from requesting preferred pronouns or names.

A “transgender student” is one whose parents have requested in writing that the child be identified by a gender that differs from their sex, according to the policy that Gov. Glen Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education quietly released on Friday. Neither the governor’s office nor the department issued a news release nor did any of the officials post anything on social media.

The move directs the state’s districts to adopt a policy—or enact a more restrictive set of rules—that gives parents total control over how their children are identified in school. The model requires educators to use students’ names and pronouns that align with the sex listed on their official records. “That is, male pronouns for a student whose legal sex is male, and female pronouns for a student whose legal sex is female,” the model policy says.

Teachers are prohibited from concealing “material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender.” Students can only use bathrooms that correspond to their sex (as defined by the model policy) but schools should also make single-user bathrooms available and accessible to all students, the policy says.

Defending transgender students

Superintendent Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said Arlington Public Schools leaders are reviewing the new state policy as a 30-day comment period begins on Sept. 26. They also assured families that the district’s own protections for transgender students and its nondiscrimination policy remain in effect.

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Fairfax County Public Schools also recognized that its LGBTQIA+ staff, student, and family community are concerned by “this change of direction by the state,” Superintendent Michelle Reid wrote on the district’s website.

“Please be assured that FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member and that our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces,” said Reid, the national superintendent of the year in 2021. “We are dedicated to providing a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member, and family are welcomed, respected, valued, and supported, as they experience a deep sense of belonging.”

The district’s core values—to enhance safety and create a fair, equitable, and supportive school environment—are outlined in its 2022-23 Student Rights and Responsibilities policy, Reid added.

Falls Church City Public Schools leaders responded by saying that they had codified protections for transgender students and that the issue is a matter of settled state law. “The FCCPS School Board wants to assure our community that we value and support every student in our charge,” Superintendent Peter Noonan and School Board Chair Laura Downs wrote on their district’s website. “We believe all students deserve a community that promotes inclusion and celebrates authenticity and assure you that FCCPS will maintain consistency with settled law and our adopted nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.”

Virginia has about 6,200 13-to-17-year-olds who identify as transgender, according to data collected by UCLA’s law school. Virginia state legislator Danica Roem says the new policy violates the Virginia Human Rights Act, which bars gender-based discrimination.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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