With school starting on Monday, some Virginia LGBTQ+ students and their parents were confused and concerned; they questioned whether public school districts had to adopt an amended VDOE [Virginia Department of Education] model policy where it limits the rights of gender nonconforming students.
Thursday, Prince William County Schools (PWCS) released a statement, clarifying the division will not be implementing the new Virginia Department of Education’s [VDOE] model policy, which limits how K-12 public schools should accommodate transgender and nonbinary students.
Instead, PWCS reaffirmed its commitment to adhering to its nondiscrimination practices as outlined in PWCS Police 738. These policies ensure equitable opportunities for transgender and nonbinary students beyond those recommended by the VDOE.
In mid-July, VDOE adopted a new model policy entitled "Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia's Public Schools." The changes make good on Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s commitment to parental rights.
In rejecting to adopt the changes, PWCS has reaffirmed the division's position that to fully respect all students and keep them safe requires, it must recognize and accept their gender identity almost without exception. This does not preclude parental involvement, and in most cases, parents can and will be involved in the conversation.
“PWCS celebrates our diversity as a strength and welcomes all students. PWCS is also committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment and serving as trusted partners in education with our students, families, and community,” the letter states.
The state does not mandate all public school divisions accept the new "model," and it depends upon the school division. PWCS joins other Northern Virginia school districts, such as Fairfax and Arlington, in rejecting the model policy, in favor of their own. Prince William Public Schools argues in its release that it has legal justifications for supporting its policies.
In rejecting the changes, Prince William County Schools staff can address nongender conforming individuals by the names and pronouns of their choosing as per the child's request.
It also means that gender non-conforming students can use their preferred restrooms and locker rooms after consultation with an administrator. Finally, students can play on sports teams, should they wish, that match their gender identity, rather than sex at birth, after consulting an administrator.
Administrations should consult with parents (if possible), teachers, and a guidance counselor to help accommodate the child.
Parents will likely be included in that conversation; however, a child may request that they not be, and a teacher does not have to ask anyone to call a person by a different name.
Youngkin amended model policies for K-12 schools significantly diverged from the stance taken by former Gov. Ralph Northam-D. Youngkin recommends that schools defer to parents. A similar draft released in September of 2022 caused controversy and even walkouts at high schools.
According to the new VDOE model policy, a parent must formally request that the school recognizes their minor child’s new gender identity via a letter in writing. The VDOE defends its policy as being sensitive to students while also respecting the rights of parents over their children who do not yet have the full rights of adults.
The VDOE has added an exception clause to protect students if the school believes the child to be suicidal or the parents to be abusive. Statics show that LBGTQ+ students who are not accepted by their family or community are more likely to commit suicide or engage in self-harm.
The model also recommends students play on teams and use facilities according to their sex at birth even if the parents wish otherwise. Alternative restroom facilities options should be provided when requested by parents. It does not recommend transgender students use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
Prince William County School’s letter states it does not share that view and emphasizes its commitment to gender-nonconforming students' right to define themselves.
“PWCS's current policies are consistent with federal and state anti-discrimination laws. PWCS policies already prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity consistent with Virginia law," it states.
PWCS notes that PWCS Policy 738, is in compliance with the Virginia Values Act, and In ''Gloucester County School Board v Grimm,' the U.S. Court of Appeals clarified transgender students have equal rights as their peers under Title IX and the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
PWCS's letter said that schools are happy to cooperate with parents and find solutions that best fit the need of the child. The solutions will not be one-size-fits-all.
“Parents and guardians are critical in their child’s education and PWCS has a history of working directly with families of students who are transgender, and those who are gender nonconforming, to ensure a safe and positive academic experience that meets individual student needs. Sensitive situations are addressed on a case-by-case basis in the best interest of the child while prioritizing safety,” PWEA states.
People who are critical of more inclusive practices toward transgender students explain that it places the rights of transgender students above that of cisgender students who want privacy and do not feel safe sharing their private spaces.
The argument for not having transgender students play on teams matching their gender identity stems from a concern that transgender girls may have an advantage over cisgender girls due to their physiology.
Prince William County Schools amended its nondiscrimination policy in 2021 to add new protections for LGBTQ+ students and staff members. It was controversial at the time.
Even as acceptance of LBGTQ+ and non-gender conforming individuals have progressed, a response to transgender identity has divided communities.
This article may be updated as Bristow Beat sources more input.
Please note, the nondiscrimination policies referred to in this article may be more nuanced than described. This is only intended only as a generalized summary for the public, and not a basis for legal interpretation.
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