Mary Vought is the founder of Vought Strategies and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.
Those who would criticize the new Virginia guidance should first read the document. It lists as its first guiding principle a statement all Virginians should support: “Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children.” Too often in recent years, progressives have overridden those parental rights, encouraging students to “transition” genders without consulting or informing their rightful legal guardians.
Youngkin’s opponent in last fall’s gubernatorial election, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, admitted this paternalistic attitude when he claimed in a debate about books in schools that “I don’t think parents should be telling their schools what they should teach.” To the left, children exist primarily as wards of the state — ones that government officials can teach, or indoctrinate, as they wish — rather than the responsibility of the parents who brought them into the world and in almost all cases care more for them than anyone else, bureaucrats included.
The Youngkin guidance correctly overturns this woke ideology and restores parental rights to their proper place. Principles such as “schools shall defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children” and “schools shall keep parents informed about their children’s well-being” make perfect sense to the vast majority of Virginians. Rather than allowing students to “change” genders behind their parents’ backs, the guidance places those household conversations where they belong: at home, within a family unit.
The guidance doesn’t just restore the rights of parents; it also restores constitutional principles. The document notes that “the First Amendment forbids government actors to require individuals to adhere to or adopt any particular ideological beliefs.” Ironically, the same progressives who cited the Constitution to prohibit mandatory prayer in schools and permit students to opt out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance now want to force teachers, administrators and students to use a student’s “preferred pronouns,” even if doing so would violate those individuals’ sincerely held religious beliefs.
The new policies reflect a proper balance that considers parental rights and constitutional obligations. Virginia school district employees can use a student’s preferred pronouns, provided they have the explicit consent of a parent to do so. However, in no case can a district “compel … personnel or other students to address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights.”
Finally, the Youngkin guidance provides a victory for women and girls, by directing that “for any athletic program or activity that is separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex” as assigned at birth. This provision will ensure that individuals born male cannot compete in women’s sports because of the inherent physical advantages (size, strength, etc.) that their sex at birth provides.
Virginia schools can and should provide a welcoming environment to all students, regardless of race, creed or gender. Prior administrations acted in ways that undermined parental rights, constitutional protections and the conscience beliefs of others. In issuing its new guidance, the Youngkin administration has restored the proper balance where it belongs. I applaud him for his actions, and other Virginia parents should do so as well.