Initial reactions from school leaders suggest that while much of the state may 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 places, including schools, from discrimination based on gender identity.
The Washington Post solicited comment from every school district in the state, and most had no initial comment. But in Northern Virginia, the initial response from several districts was strongly negative.
Virginia politics have tried to restrict the rights of transgender students
Alexandria City Public School leaders pledged to maintain their commitment to “gender-affirming policies” for all students.
“We are concerned about these ‘model policies’ which 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 all world in our school community,” reads a letter to staff and families from District School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton and Acting Superintendent of Schools Melanie Kay-Wyatt.
Falls Church City Public Schools also suggested he might resist. In a statement to the community, the leaders said they wanted to “assure our community that we value and support every student in our care.” They wrote that the district is committed to upholding Virginia’s human rights law and case law which requires “respecting the gender identity of transgender students like any other student.”
A similar statement came from Arlington Public Schools, along with a link to resources for LGBTQ youth and ensuring that existing non-discrimination policies remain in effect.
Other districts said they were awaiting further guidance from the state, and some suggested they would comply with any guidance 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 is 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 required that transgender students have access to restrooms, locker rooms, and locker rooms that matched their gender identity. The guidelines also stated that schools allow transgender students to participate in school programs consistent with their gender identity, and required that districts and teachers accept and use students’ pronoun and gender identity, without question.
Culpeper County Public Schools said in response to questions that the district was already in compliance with the new rules and never adopted Northam’s guidelines in the first place, said Division Superintendent Anthony S. Brads in an email.
He said teachers and staff are required to refer to students by the names and pronouns listed on the class lists and if a family wants to change this, the student and at least one parent must apply to the School principal. He said transgender students have access to the restroom if they “consistently and truthfully present a gender” and if confirmed by at least one parent or legal guardian.
A Stafford County Public Schools official, James Stemple, said his district already requires a gender support plan for transgender students, which must be initiated by parents or guardians.
And a Chesapeake Public Schools spokesperson said the district is reviewing the new guidelines and “will submit proposed amendments for board approval if warranted.”
At Martinsville City Public Schools, spokesperson Callie Hietala said the district allows transgender students to use school facilities and participate in sports based on their gender identity, and that teachers use names and students’ favorite pronouns. Students can initiate changes to their names or pronouns, and teachers are not required to notify parents if this occurs.
She did not indicate what will happen next.
“Whether our current policies change or not is up to our school board to decide,” she said. “We will respect the decisions they make.”
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.