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Virginia governor seeks new policies for transgender students

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has rewritten Virginia’s model policies for dealing with transgender students, issuing guidelines for school divisions that would roll back some accommodations and tighten parental notification requirements.

New model policies from the Virginia Department of Education, which were posted online Friday, say student participation in certain school programs 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 by federal law. The policies also state that underage students must be referred to by name and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves the use otherwise.

Regarding parent notification, the guidelines state that school divisions cannot encourage teachers to withhold information about a student’s gender from parents. And they say parents must be given the opportunity to object before gender counseling services are offered.

The guidelines are subject to a 30-day public comment period that will open later this month. Then, under a 2020 state law, local school boards must adopt policies that are “consistent” with those of the department but may be “more comprehensive,” the document says.

Macaulay Porter, spokesperson for Youngkin, said in a statement that the updated policy “fulfils the governor’s commitment to safeguard parental rights and uphold the dignity and respect of all public school students.”

The revisions mark a dramatic shift from the guidelines that were first issued in 2021 during the administration of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. These guidelines stated that schools should allow students to use gender names and pronouns that reflect their gender identity without “any supporting evidence”. on students’ gender identity with parents on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the health and safety of students.

The updated guidelines state that school divisions must ensure that no student is discriminated against or harassed because of their gender and should “attempt to accommodate students with special needs, including any student with a persistent and sincere belief that their gender differs from their gender.”

Single-use bathrooms and facilities should be made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students, as directed.

Conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups have 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 gender abuse and for leaving children in schools where they are supposed to be safe. Absolutely disgraceful,” Democratic MP Mike Mullin tweeted. Senate Democrats, in a collective statement, called the move an “outright violation of the civil rights of Virginians” and said it perpetuated “the national MAGA playbook of erasing any inference of diversity, equity or inclusion in our communities”.

Some LGBTQ advocates have suggested the changes could be challenged in court. The ACLU of Virginia said it was “appalled” by the redesign, was reviewing the proposal and would have “more to say in the days to come.”

Virginia’s initial guidelines were developed pursuant to a 2020 bipartisan law, which required the Department of Education to develop policies regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools and make them available to local school boards. School boards were then asked to adopt policies “consistent” with the model state policies.

But many school boards have never complied, according to a recent analysis by Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group. A spokesperson for the Department of Education told the Virginia Mercury last year that the agency doesn’t even track which divisions meet the standards.