Fairfax County Public Schools rejected the Virginia Department of Education’s “model policies,” which place restrictions on transgender students and visible expressions of their identities.
The school system refused to adopt the policies proposed by DOE officials carrying out the wishes of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration.
Under the “model policies,” which Youngkin has touted as measures strengthening “parents’ rights,” any student, regardless of gender identity, may not be called by another name, a nickname, or pronouns that don’t match their assigned sex at birth — unless they receive parental permission.
However, even if parents make a request asking that their children be treated based on their gender identity, individual teachers and other students may disregard those parents’ wishes and continue to misname or misgender students, regardless of whether they are motivated by spite, personal animus, or allegedly “sincerely held” religious beliefs opposing homosexuality or transgender identity.
The “model policies” also direct teachers to out students who have identified as transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming to their parents and may be barred from restrooms, locker rooms, or overnight trip sleeping accommodations that don’t match their assigned sex at birth. However, the policies dictate that single-user facilities be available to transgender students.
Current precedent in states covered by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including Virginia, dictates that barring transgender students from gender-affirming facilities is discriminatory and unconstitutional. It remains unclear what will happen if a district’s school restroom access policies are found to violate existing legal precedent.
When the policies were first introduced last year, thousands of high school and middle school-aged students across the state held walkouts in protest.
While no school district is required to fully adopt the “model policies” guidance — just as many conservative districts refused to adopt transgender-friendly policies in 2021 under former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam — districts are strongly encouraged to do so.
As a result, the commonwealth’s more liberal environs oppose the Youngkin administration’s preferred rules. But state law allows districts to adopt policies loosely based on the “model policies,” while also allowing them to add enhanced protections for transgender students if they see fit.
Fairfax County Public Schools made the announcement by email on Tuesday, to the delight of LGBTQ advocates and students who feared that the policies would erase transgender identity from schools and exacerbate youths’ feelings of incongruity between their assigned sex at birth and gender identity.
“It was a relief,” Ranger Belleisen, of the LGBTQ student-led group Pride Liberation Project, told WRC-TV. “I know so many people still in FCPS who would’ve been impacted by these policies, tons and tons. It was honestly a relief when I saw the email.”
A Tuesday rally planned by opponents of Youngkin’s “model policies” before knowing the school district’s decision turned into a celebration for students and LGBTQ-affirming parents.
Fairfax joins liberal-leaning Arlington County in rejecting the proposed model policies.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter blasted Fairfax County’s decision in a statement to Fox News.
“The law requires the Virginia Department of Education to provide model policies and requires school boards to adopt policies consistent with those provided by the Department,” Porter said in a statement. “The Fairfax County Public Schools policies diverge from VDOE model policy guidance and perpetuate a false notion that FCPS knows what’s better for a child than a child’s parent. The Fairfax County school board is expected to follow the law.”
At the same time, the Spotsylvania School Board became the first district in the state to adopt the model policies.
The decision was not shocking, given Spotsylvania’s conservative leanings, and the fact that the school board had previously sought to ban books with LGBTQ content.
“All children in Virginia deserve to have a parent engaged in their life and to be treated with dignity and respect,” Younkin boasted of the Spotsylvania decision in a statement. “The VDOE updated model policies reaffirm my administration’s continued commitment to ensure that every parent is involved in conversations regarding their child’s education, upbringing, and care.”
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia disagreed, calling the policies “hateful” and “dangerous” and tantamount to green-lighting discrimination against gender-nonconforming students, in violation of federal laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination.
“At best, the new model policies for the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students invite discrimination that violates state and federal law,” Breanna Diaz, the organization’s policy and legislative counsel, said in a statement. “At worst, they require it.”
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