Despite the law, few Virginia school districts are adopting model state transgender policies

Two years after the General Assembly passed legislation requiring Virginia school districts to adopt policies for transgender and non-binary students, few have chosen to adopt model policies developed by the state.

In 2020, school boards were required by law to adopt policies similar to or more comprehensive than the models developed by the Virginia Department of Education for dealing with transgender students by the 2021-22 school year.

By early September, however, only 10% of school boards had adopted the policy templates, according to Equality Virginia. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group, which tracks the law’s rollout in districts, said 13 school divisions have fully adopted the VDOE model policies, while 90 have opted to follow the guidelines offered by the Virginia School Boards Association that affirms that the existing policies meet the requirements of the law. . Still other districts rejected the new policies outright.

“I’m a little disappointed with the reluctance of some school boards to follow the laws,” Del said. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who carried the legislation with Senator Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, in 2020.

The 2020 law, which Equality Virginia executive director Narissa Rahaman called “landmark legislation,” lacked an enforcement mechanism, however.

Simon said while he hopes Virginia school boards adopt the policy, he plans to review the legislation in the future and include incentives or penalties. An attempt during the last legislative session to remove requirement for school divisions to adopt the policies failed in committee.

Policy templates

Model policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education aimed to minimize discrimination and maximize academic opportunities for transgender and non-binary students in public schools.

The 2020 law, which was signed by former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, identified eight key areas that policies should address. Conversations since then have included how students are identified and the use of bathrooms and changing rooms that conform to a student’s gender identity.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been more critical of the effort. He recently criticized Fairfax County for its policies on transgender students and said parents should be informed of students’ gender identity or sexual orientation.

“I can’t believe bureaucrats and administrators can tell teachers to engage in these discussions and allow these decisions to be made without telling a parent,” Youngkin said at an Aug. 31 rally in Virginia. North. “That can’t happen.”

Simon said the model policies were designed to give school boards and administrators guidance on evidence-based practices, while Boysko said they were developed with “many public inputs” from teachers. , administrators, students and parents across the Commonwealth.

The most recent national school climate survey conducted by GLSEN, a group formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that advocates for LGBTQ+ students, found that most LGBTQ+ high school students felt unsafe at school in 2019, largely partly because of their sexual orientation and the way they expressed their gender. Many also said they did not have access to resources, such as an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, and were not protected by supportive and inclusive school policies.

In the wake of the 2020 law, groups including the Christian Action Network have attempted to block such policies, including in Lynchburg City, where a judge dismissed their complaint.

James Fairchild, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the case, written in court documents that Virginia’s model policies went beyond treating all students “with compassion and with great care.”

He said the policies “adventure in an unscientific and ideological anti-biological bias that presents a false reality by adopting and imposing on everyone an unworkable framework and accepting the unsustainable fictional social construct of transgender activists who deny the biological character of sex and instead treats sex as a mere “label” assigned at birth.

Different approaches

Virginia school districts have taken different approaches to meet state requirements.

Some, like Loudoun and Fairfax, have adopted the model policies. Newport News initially rejected the state’s recommendation, but later overturned this decision.

A handful, including Augusta, Bedford, Pittsylvania and Russell Countieshave outright rejected these policies, while the city school board of Chesapeake never allowed politicians to come to the vote.

Cynthia Compton, President of the Russell County School Board said last summer during the board vote that she believes the school division abides by state law and has a mission to “try to keep every child safe while they’re in school.”

Last summer, the Warren County School Board refused to adopt none of the policies.

Warren County School Board Member Ralph Rinaldi said it was important to be a role model for other counties and to come up with a solution that is “good for the students of Warren County first and for all others later”.

The Chesapeake and Russell school board presidents did not immediately respond to the comments. Andrea Lo, the current Warren County School Board Chair, was not in office at the time of the vote.

The Hanover County School Board recently passed a policy requiring transgender students who want access to restrooms, locker rooms, or locker rooms that match their gender identity to submit a written request to the school principal.

The request must include signed statements that the student has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or consistently expresses a binary gender identity, statements from the student’s parent or guardian, and the student’s disciplinary or criminal record .

Rahaman said Hanover’s policy is “invasive” and unnecessary and will further stigmatize and potentially harm transgender and non-binary students.

Many other divisions argued that their current policies are aligned with the response provided by the Virginia School Board Association, which they claim are in accordance with state law. VSBA’s five-page document explains how the association believes its policies meet the requirements of the 2020 law, including being in compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act and providing a safe and supportive learning environment, free from discrimination and harassment for all students.

Therefore, schools that have already adopted the policies listed by VSBA have asserted that they are compliant with the 2020 law and do not need to take further action.

Schools in the city of Lexington, for example, said last summer that “the law is clear that transgender students must be permitted to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they consistently identify and affirm themselves. Any pupil can request to use private toilets within the school. Schools in the city of Lexington will obey the law.

But Rahaman said VSBA’s policies are insufficient and do not mention the word “transgender”. She also said VSBA’s policies do not address eight areas identified by the Commonwealth, including dress code, student identification and use of facilities.

VDOE’s policies are a guide to creating “assertive school environments”, she said, while VSBA’s policy updates are simply “an attempt to achieve legal compliance with the law of the State”.

Gina Patterson, executive director of the Virginia School Board Association, did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s been disappointing to see some other school districts who clearly haven’t understood the importance of treating students with respect and dignity, and the privacy issues they may have,” Boysko said.

Rahaman said transgender and non-binary students exist everywhere in Virginia and they deserve school boards that will affirm and support their identities on equality.

“We want teachers to be able to focus on teaching and so these model policies, and the guidelines are here to help teachers better understand how to create affirming classrooms and learning environments for students, so so they can focus on teaching things like math and science. and history,” she said.

Councils can face legal consequences if they do not adopt model policies

The Ministry of Education was granted little enforcement power by the 2020 law to penalize school divisions for not adopting the model policies.

James Lane, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a note to superintendents dated last summer that non-discrimination policies alone may be insufficient to meet the full scope of this legal mandate.

“Like all other local school board mandates resulting from General Assembly action, local school boards must adhere to this directive in order to be in compliance with state law,” Lane wrote. “Local school boards that choose not to adopt policies bear all legal responsibility for non-compliance.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry into school districts’ failure to adopt the model policies.

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