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Youngkin administration rolls back protections for transgender students

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin spoke Sept. 14 at the V3 (Virginia Values Veterans) Awards Luncheon at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

People filled the Hanover County School Board chambers at last week's Aug. 9 meeting to speak during public comment regarding a new proposed transgender policy.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration undid the state department of education’s policy to protect transgender students all at once on Friday. It rewrote model policies strengthening transgender students' rights in order to emphasize parents’ rights.

The “2022 Model Policies On The Privacy, Dignity And Respect For All Students And Parents In Virginia’s Public Schools,” which the administration released quietly Friday, will require students to use school bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth, effective immediately.

The new policies also specify student participation in school athletics and activities shall be based on sex — the document defines sex as “biological sex” — and requires parent approval for any changes to a student’s name, including nicknames and/or pronouns.

The Youngkin administration's document says each school board around the state "shall adopt policies that are consistent with, but may be more comprehensive than the model policies."

In a Saturday morning tweet, the ACLU of Virginia said “We are appalled by the Youngkin administration's overhaul of key protections for transgender students in public schools.”

It continued: “LGBTQ+ students already experience much higher self-harm & suicide rates because of the discrimination they face. This will only make matters worse.”

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement that the new model "delivers on the governor's commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students. It is not under a school's or the government's purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs  on all students."

Porter added: "Key decisions rest, first and foremost, with the parents. The previous policies implemented under the Northam Administration did not uphold constitutional principles and parental rights, and will be replaced."

Under the leadership of then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, last year the Virginia Department of Education released model policies that provided increased protections for transgender students. It enacted the guidelines after the legislature passed a 2020 law that required school boards to adopt appropriate policies regarding the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students by the start of the 2021 school year.

“These new policies are cruel and not at all evidence-based,” Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who cosponsored the state law, tweeted Friday. “If enacted these policies will harm Virginia children. Stop bullying kids to score political points.”

After completing “a thorough review” of the 2021 model policies, the Department of Education, now under Youngkin, found the document “disregarded the rights of parents and ignored other legal and constitutional principles that significantly impact how schools educate students, including transgender students.”

Youngkin's push to give parents more say in their children's public education was a key to his election in 2021 over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. It is a message he is now carrying to other states as a model for other GOP candidates for governor.

"Our children do not belong to the state," Youngkin said Thursday in Nevada, while campaigning with Joe Lombardo, the GOP candidate for governor. "They belong to you."

Youngkin added: "We're on the side of parents, because, guess what, parents matter."

The new Virginia model policies say, “empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia.”

The ACLU tweet said: “Let's be clear: Not all parents share the same beliefs. The role of public schools is to protect the rights & well-being of ALL students, including trans & nonbinary students."

The new policies, according to the Department of Education, took into consideration the more than 9,000 comments the department received during the public comment period for the former model policies.

The new document “hereby withdraws the 2021 Model Policies, which shall have no further force and effect.”

On Twitter, Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, the first openly transgender member of a state legislature, is calling for contesting the governor’s action under the Virginia Human Rights Act, which says it is state policy to bar unlawful discrimination in educational institutions.

In the Richmond area, the Hanover School Board did not welcome the model policies enacted under Northam. Instead, after enlisting the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, the board finally adopted a controversial transgender policy last month.

Hanover’s policy requires transgender students to submit a written request to school administration asking for access to school facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that are separated by gender identities. The school board will have the final say in the decision.

In a tweet Friday night, Karl Frisch, a Fairfax County School Board member and Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates, said, “we will not stand silent as Youngkin tramples the rights of LGBTQIA+ students and their families. He’s putting the lives of young Virginians in jeopardy to score political points and he should be ashamed.”

Last July the Fairfax County School Board unanimously approved updating the district’s “Student Rights and Responsibilities” document to include protections for transgender students.

Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, thanked Youngkin for the new policies in a tweet Friday.

“Thank you @GovernorVA for fixing one of the most overreaching and abusive uses of a 'model policy' that I've seen," Davis wrote. "This new standard ensures all students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying."

A 30-day public comment period for the new model policies is slated to begin on Sept. 26. After that, the policies will go into effect.

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