APS “reviewing” new state guidelines about transgender students, but keeping current policies for now

Men’s restroom sign at county office building at Sequoia Plaza (staff photo)

(Updated, 2:40 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is “aware of and are reviewing” new draft policies handed down by the Commonwealth late last week regarding the rights of transgender students.

On Friday evening, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released updated “model policies” directing local school boards to adopt a set of new policies relating to the treatment, rights, and actions of transgender students as well as who teachers are allowed to identify as transgender.

The guidelines, seen as a rebuttal to last year’s Democratic-led policies, are set to regulate everything from which bathroom a student can use to the meaning of “the phrase ‘transgender student’.”

In response this morning, APS released a statement saying that it is reviewing the guidelines and will continue to adhere to its own policies related to transgender students.

“APS will continue to uphold our core mission and policies to ensure that every child receives equal educational access and opportunities,” read the statement in part, which is co-signed by Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein.

“We value the many diverse identities within our schools, where every student can authentically express themselves, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement continued. “APS continues to take seriously the privilege and responsibility of working towards a shared understanding and mutual respect for all people.”

APS’s response also noted there’s a 30-day public comment period that begins Sept. 26 prior to the enactment of the new state-directed policies. APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that VDOE could make changes to the policies in response to public comment.

“There is a 30-day public comment period, at which point the VDOE will review comments and make potential changes prior to posting a final document,” Bellavia wrote. “School divisions will need to then review the final document prior to any action.”

Fairfax County Public Schools are “thoroughly reviewing” the guidelines as well.

The new policies, under the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), say that teachers and staff can identify as a transgender student only those whose parents provide written permission.

“The phrase ‘transgender student’ shall mean a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school,” says the guidelines.

Even if a parent does submit the required written request, however, it does not mean teachers and staff are required to use the student’s name or gender if the staff member believes it will violate their “constitutionally protected rights.”

The new policy has received backlash from some who say that this could result in students being misgendered, outed, and put in harmful situations. It also stands in contrast to APS’s policy first adopted in 2019, which says that students have the right to decide their own gender identity.

“Every student has the right to be addressed by names and pronouns that correspond to the student’s gender identity. Regardless of whether a transgender student has legally changed their name or gender, schools will allow students to use a chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity,” reads APS’s policy.

The state education department’s new policies parse out the terms “sex” and “gender,” noting that “sex” means “biological sex” and gender “differs from his or her sex.” Using these definitions, the guidelines regulate which students can use what bathroom.

“Students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires,” the document reads.

APS’s stated policy says otherwise.

“Access to facilities that correspond to a student’s gender identity will be available to all students,” the 2019 guidelines say. “Single user, gender neutral facilities will be made available to all users who seek privacy.”

A number of local lawmakers also weighed in, with many criticizing the policies for being “cruel” and ‘harmful” to Virginia students.

The Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization that advocates for Virginia’s LQBTQ+ community in schools, released a statement condemning VDOE’s new policies, saying they are “attacking” students.

“These revised guidelines will only hurt students in a time when students are facing unparalleled mental health challenges and are a cruel attempt to politicize the existence of LGBTQIA+ students for political gain,” the statement says in part.

The organization is also promising to organize students across Virginia to “reject” the new policies, though they are still figuring out what that may look like.

“While we are still finalizing our plan to oppose these regulations, we expect hundreds of students to participate in rallies and demonstrations as part of a day of action that is tentatively planned for next week,” a Pride Liberation Project spokesperson wrote to ARLnow. “We hope every school district makes it clear they oppose these changes to the model transgender policies and considers every option to stop them from being implemented.”

Gov. Youngkin’s office, meanwhile, applauded VDOE’s new guidelines, while saying the previous administration’s policies were not constitutional.

“The 2022 model policy posted 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,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told ARLnow and our sister site FFXnow. “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.”