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FCPS ‘reviewing’ Virginia’s proposed policies on treatment of transgender students

Transgender pride flag (via Alexander Grey/Unsplash)

(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) New draft policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender students are currently under review by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Unveiled Friday afternoon (Sept. 16), the Virginia Department of Education’s proposed 2022 model policies directs schools to defer to parents in determining accommodations for LGBTQ students, including the names and pronouns staff can use for them.

“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,” Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said in a statement. “It is not under a school’s or the government’s purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students.”

If the policies take effect, staff must refer to students by the name and sex on their official school records or a “commonly associated” nickname. To change their official records, a student or parent must provide legal documentation, such as a birth certificate, passport, a state or federal identification or court order, supporting the change.

Even with a records change, though, schools can’t require staff and other students “to address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights,” suggesting misgendering and deadnaming will be permissible despite state prohibitions against discrimination and harassment, including based on gender identity.

Under the draft policies, bathroom usage and participation in athletics and other activities must be based on students’ sex as assigned at birth, though “single-user” facilities are supposed to be “made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage” indicating universal accessibility.

The guidelines reverse model policies that the state education department released last year and contradict FCPS’ regulation supporting equity for transgender and gender-expansive students — a policy that Youngkin specifically criticized late last month.

“I understand the concerns that our LGBTQIA+ staff, student, and family community have about what this change of direction by the state may mean for our school division,” Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a message sent to families yesterday (Sunday). “Please be assured that FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member and that our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces.”

FCPS is in the process of “thoroughly reviewing” the draft guidelines and will release “a more detailed response” soon, Reid said.

The draft policies “betray” a state law adopted in 2020 to protect transgender and queer students, who have become a frequent target of anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide, says the Pride Liberation Project, an advocacy group of over 200 students.

Calling on the state to withdraw its proposed revisions, the LGBTQ student advocacy group argued that the model policies would require schools to out students, prevent students from expressing their gender identity, and enable parents to block their kids from accessing critical counseling services at a time of increased concern about students’ mental health.

“As a closeted student, I wouldn’t be able to come home if my parents found out that I was Queer. I am terrified that these draft regulations will take away one of the few places I can just be myself,” an anonymous Fairfax County student said in a press release.

The student-run group indicated that it will be active at school board meetings in the coming weeks.

“We are committed to making sure FCPS maintains a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member, and family is welcomed, respected, valued, and supported,” Fairfax County School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer said by email to FFXnow. “This includes our LGBTQIA+ students, staff, and families. FCPS is reviewing the model policy that was released late Friday and will provide additional comments soon.”

Multiple school board members promised on social media that FCPS will continue to support LGBTQ students.

Public comments on the draft policies will be accepted through Virginia’s regulatory town hall for a 30-day period starting Sept. 26.

Reid’s full message to families is below.

September 18, 2022

Dear FCPS Families,

On Friday evening, we became aware of a new proposed model policy from the Virginia Department of Education regarding the privacy, dignity, and respect for all students, staff, and families in Virginia’s public schools. The newly proposed model policy is scheduled for a 30-day public comment period starting September 26.

I understand the concerns that our LGBTQIA+ staff, student, and family community have about what this change of direction by the state may mean for our school division. Please be assured that FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member and that our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces.

Here at Fairfax County Public Schools, we are dedicated to providing a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member, and family is welcomed, respected, valued, and supported, as they experience a deep sense of belonging.

Our core beliefs and mission hold that:

Fairfax County Public Schools inspires and empowers students to meet high academic standards, lead healthy, ethical lives, and be responsible and innovative global citizens:

  • Each student is entitled to an excellent education that meets his or her individual needs.
  • Everyone thrives in a vibrant, healthful, safe, enriching, and respectful environment.
  • Our diversity is a strength that creates resilient, open, and innovative global citizens.

These core values and beliefs speak to the very heart of who we are at Fairfax County Public Schools, and our students, staff, and families, are counting on us to adhere to them. These core values — to enhance school safety and create a fair, equitable, and supportive school environment — are also outlined in the 2022-23 Student Rights and Responsibilities.

We will be thoroughly reviewing the new state proposed model policy in the coming days and will share a more detailed response to the newly proposed policy soon. In the meantime, we remain committed to maintaining equitable opportunities and access for each of our students, staff, and families in a justice-centered, future-focused, and student-driven school environment.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Michelle Reid
Superintendent
Fairfax County Public Schools

Photo via Alexander Grey/Unsplash

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