FCPS leaders voice support for transgender students despite new Virginia policies

Students at Fairfax High School walked out in September 2022 to protest Virginia’s proposed policies restricting transgender and gender-nonconfirming students’ rights (courtesy Pride Liberation Project)

After months of review, the Virginia Department of Education has released a final set of policies guiding public schools on how to treat transgender students — including many that contradict the policies currently used by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Released Tuesday (July 18), the “model policies” generally direct schools to require that students use names, pronouns and facilities, such as bathrooms, based on their legal sex as designated in their official school records. All local public school systems are obligated by state law to adopt a version of the policies.

FCPS, which has provided protections for students based on their gender identity since 2020, says it’s now “reviewing” the new policies from the state.

“FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member including those who are transgender or gender expansive,” FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a statement. “Our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces.”

Rolling back rules issued by the state in 2021 that let students use names, pronouns and facilities matching their gender identity, the new policies require school employees to refer to students by the name and pronouns corresponding to the sex displayed on their official school records.

Employees can use a different name or pronoun if a parent provides written permission, but even with a parent’s consent, the name and sex in school records can only be changed if a legal document, such as a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license, is provided.

The document says the use of bathrooms and other facilities must also be based on sex, even as it acknowledges that an appeals court found denying students access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity to be discriminatory.

Participation in school activities, including athletics, will also be determined by sex, though the state law requiring the VDOE to develop the model policies on transgender students explicitly excluded athletics from consideration.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin lauded the policies as affirming the importance of parents being engaged in their children’s lives.

“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,” he said in a statement. “Public comment, input, and concerns were carefully evaluated and assessed to formulate the updated model policies.”

The policies are largely the same as an earlier draft released last fall that spurred student protests across the state in support of transgender rights and drew over 70,000 public comments.

The Pride Liberation Project, a student-led LGBTQ advocacy group that organized the protests, blasted the final document as “Don’t Be Trans” policies — echoing the “Don’t Say Gay” moniker used by critics for a Florida law that banned discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

The VDOE policies represent “an attempt to force LGBTQIA+ students back into the closet,” the PLP said, urging school districts to reject them.

“Don’t Be Trans would have prevented me from graduating,” said Bas Rawat, a current George Mason University student who graduated from high school in 2022. “School was the only place where I could be myself because my household wasn’t supportive. These guidelines will deny thousands of Virginia students the chance to be themselves.”

When the draft policies came out, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing the proposals as harmful to students and the county, while the school board issued a statement affirming its commitment to supporting transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch, the county’s first and thus far only openly gay elected official, called the model policies “unconscionable and dangerous,” noting that the Virginia Department of Health recently removed pages with resources for LGBTQ youth from its website.

“We must do everything we can to protect, support, and affirm transgender and nonbinary students so they can focus on learning rather than being distracted by the weight of other people’s hate,” Frisch said. “That starts with standing up to careless political leaders who should know better than to bully children.”

The policies were also criticized by Stella Pekarsky, who currently represents Sully District on the school board and is campaigning for a state senate seat this November.

“The Youngkin Administration’s Transgender Model Policies send a cruel message to some of our most vulnerable children,” Pekarsky said in a tweet from her campaign account. “As a parent, my heart breaks that anyone could target kids that are already dealing with so much in their young lives. They deserve love & acceptance.”

A 2023 national survey by The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis support services to LGBTQ youth, found lower rates of attempting suicide among transgender and nonbinary youth who reported that their schools affirm their gender identity, the ACLU of Virginia noted in a statement opposing the model policies.

“Not only does VDOE’s decision dismiss the will of the majority of Virginians it’s meant to serve, it willfully disregards evidence-based best practices and existing law,” ACLU of Virginia Senior Transgender Rights Attorney Wyatt Rolla said. “These policies recklessly endanger the safety of trans youth across the Commonwealth, who deserve to learn free from fear, stigma, and discrimination.”

The policies appear to conflict with state and federal law as well as Virginia High School League eligibility criteria, according to the legal organization, which represented Gloucester County student Gavin Grimm in his case over his school’s policy requiring him to use a separate restroom.

For now, the ACLU chapter said it will wait to see how local school boards approach the policies before taking any action.

“We are analyzing the model policies and will be watching to see how school boards implement the policies and whether that implementation harms transgender and nonbinary students,” an ACLU of Virginia spokesperson told FFXnow.