(The Center Square) – A commission of Virginia state lawmakers voted Monday to file an objection to the Virginia Department of Education’s proposed 2022 model policy for schools, which outlines new rules for how schools handle a student’s gender identity that have been labeled anti-trans by opponents.
In a 5-4 vote, lawmakers on the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules voted to file an objection to the policy that outlines new rules for a parent’s role in a student’s gender identity.
Specifically, the proposed policy defines a transgender student as 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 from his or her sex, that their child be identified while at school.”
The commission’s objection does not stop the policy from taking effect, but individual rights organizations are hopeful it will catch the attention of the Virginia Department of Education, which is reviewing public comments about the policy.
“We hope VDOE will hear the tens of thousands of voices who submitted public comment opposing the proposed model policies and rescind them,” Alexandra Werner-Winslow, director of public relations for the ACLU of Virginia, told The Center Square in an email after Monday’s vote.
In addition to defining “transgender student,” the proposed policy also states a school official should identify a student by the name that appears on the school’s official record or by a nickname “commonly associated with the name that appears in the student’s official record.”
Additionally, the policy directs school officials to “refer to each student using only the pronouns appropriate to the sex appearing in the student’s official record – that is, male pronouns for a student whose legal sex is male, and female pronouns for a student whose legal sex is female.”
Transgender students will also be required to use locker rooms and participate on sports teams that align with their biological sex. The policy also states students should use bathrooms that correspond with their biological sex “except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires,” noting a 2020 ruling that held transgender students must be allowed to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The policy essentially reverses several protocols established in the 2021 policy, which allowed students to use personal pronouns and names that corresponded with their gender identity, as well as bathrooms and other facilities, according to an analysis from Jackson Lewis attorneys.
The model policy sparked backlash from human rights groups and parents of transgender students who argue the rules could cause harm by barring students from going by their chosen name or pronouns.
The Department of Education has not set a date for when the final policy will be released. Once the guidance is issued, however, public schools are expected to adopt policies aligning with VDOE.
“The guidance document will become final once all public comment has been reviewed and any warranted edits are identified and made,” Charles Pyle, director of communications for the education department, told The Center Square in an email.
During the hearing, the commission heard from dozens of public commenters and several presenters speaking both for the policy and against it. Those in favor of the proposed 2022 Model Policy argued it will reverse policies established in 2021 they say infringed on parental rights.
“The former policy disregarded parent rights and actually empowered school divisions to be the determinants of whether to one, accept a student’s request to identify as a different gender, or two, abide by the parents wishes to continue using the student’s legal name and sex assigned at birth, or three, to develop an alternative that respects both the students and the parents,” Department of Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera said.
Other presenters, who spoke in opposition to the policy as it currently stands, argued the guidance would put transgender and non-binary students at greater risk for harm and discrimination at school and create “unsafe and unproductive learning environments.”
“All students in Virginia deserve a K-12 education system that allows them to grow to learn and grow free from harm, and trans and non-binary students must be afforded the equal opportunity to learn in a safe and affirming school environment,” Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman said. “The 2022 model policies do not provide trans non binary students as opportunity and would instead create learning environments again that are unsafe, hostile and dangerous.”