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Some Va. districts seem ready to fight Youngkin plan for trans students

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) speaks with reporters in Loudoun County on Tuesday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

A trio of northern Virginia school districts vowed to resist an order from the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin that would sharply reduce the rights of transgender students, while others suggested they will comply, as school leaders across the state absorbed a 180-degree turn in policy on gender identity.

Late last week, Youngkin (R) directed all 133 of the state’s school districts to adopt new “model policies” after a comment period. These would require transgender students to access school facilities and programs matching the sex they were assigned at birth. The state will also mandate that families submit legal documentation if they want to let their children change their name or gender on official school records. Teachers and other school personnel may not refer to a student by a different name or pronoun unless parents request the switch in writing.

Early reaction from school leaders suggests that while much of the state might comply with the order, Youngkin is likely to face resistance from more liberal areas. Already, there is talk of a lawsuit challenging the order, with opponents arguing that it violates the Virginia Human Rights Act, which protects individuals in public settings, including schools, from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The Washington Post sought comment from every school district in the state, and most had no initial comment. But in Northern Virginia, initial response from several districts was sharply negative.

Virginia policy latest attempt to restrict rights of transgender students

Leaders of Alexandria City Public Schools vowed to maintain their commitment to “gender affirming policies” for all students.

“We are concerned with these ‘model policies’ that do not align with our mission, vision and core values to support all students and staff, in particular, our core value of ensuring that we provide a welcoming environment for everyone in our school community,” said a letter to staff and families from the district’s school board president, Meagan L. Alderton, and interim schools superintendent, Melanie Kay-Wyatt.

Falls Church City Public Schools also suggested it may resist. In a statement to the community, leaders said they wanted to “assure our community that we value and support every student in our charge.” They wrote that the district was committed to following the Virginia Human Rights Act and case law that require “respect for the gender identity of transgender students just like any other student.”

A similar statement came from Arlington Public Schools, along with a link to resources for LGBTQ youth and assurances that existing nondiscrimination policies remain in effect.

Other districts said they were awaiting further guidance from the state, and some suggested they will comply with whatever directives are issued.

“Pulaski County Public Schools maintains the position of always complying with state law and incorporating policies and procedures as directed by the Virginia Department of Education,” said Kevin W. Siers, division superintendent for the district. “This was how we arrived at our current policy and the guiding principle by which we will make future adjustments.”

The new policy is a reversal of a statewide order put in place just two years ago by Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam. His version mandated that transgender students be granted access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that matched their gender identity. The guidelines also stipulated that schools let transgender students participate in school programs matching their gender identity, and required that districts and teachers accept and use students’ gender pronoun and identity, without question.

Culpeper County Public Schools said the district is already in compliance with the new rules and that it never adopted the Northam guidelines in the first place.

Division Superintendent Anthony S. Brads said in an email that teachers and staff are required to refer to students by the names and pronouns listed on the class rolls and that if a family wants to change that, the student and at least one parent must make a request to the school principal. He said transgender students are accommodated with bathroom access if they “consistently and sincerely present as a gender” and if this is affirmed by at least one parent or legal guardian.

“We believe that in such an important decision, children need parental permission,” added Russell Houck, executive director of student services in Culpeper. “We cannot take students on a field trip, take medications at school or be on an athletic team without written parent consent.”

He said it was not fair to teachers to expect them to call a student one name in class and refer to them by another when talking with parents. If students are fearful of talking to their parents about their identity, he said, the school can help them prepare for that conversation. “We believe nearly all parents, once given time to process things and learn more about gender dysphoria, will lovingly support their child because that has been our experience.”

An official with Stafford County Public Schools, James Stemple, said that his district already requires a gender-support plan for transgender students, which must be initiated by parents or guardians.

And a spokesman for Chesapeake Public Schools said the district is reviewing the new guidance and “will bring forth proposed amendments for Board approval if warranted.”

At Martinsville City Public Schools, spokeswoman Callie Hietala said the district allows transgender students to use school facilities and participate in sports according to their gender identity, and that teachers use students’ preferred names and pronouns. Students can initiate changes to their names or pronouns, and teachers are not required to tell parents if this occurs.

She did not indicate what will happen next.

“Whether or not our current policies change is a matter for our school board to decide,” she said. “We will abide by the decisions they make.”

Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.

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