Fairfax County Public Schools has officially announced that it will not implement the Virginia Department of Education’s recently finalized model policies regarding transgender and nonbinary students.
Yesterday (Tuesday), FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid released a statement confirming that FCPS won’t adopt the new guidelines after a “detailed legal review” found that its current policies are “consistent” with state and federal law.
The statement notes that gender-expansive and transgender students will continue to be referred to by their chosen names and pronouns, given access to school programming and facilities based on their gender identity, and “have their privacy respected,” regardless of their gender identity or legal sex.
“Let me be clear that FCPS remains committed to fostering a safe, supportive, welcoming, and inclusive school environment for all students and staff, including our transgender and gender expansive students and staff,” Reid wrote. “We believe that supporting our students and working with parents and caregivers are not mutually exclusive; we already do both and will continue to do so. We know that students can only learn effectively when they feel safe and supported.”
The policies that FCPS plans to keep in place directly oppose Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s guidance, which has two main requirements:
- Students must participate in school activities and use school facilities according to their sex legally assigned at birth rather than gender identity
- Parents must provide written consent if a student wants to go by a name and/or pronouns that differ from what appears on the student’s official records
Youngkin has characterized the policies as keeping parents involved “in conversations about their child’s education, upbringing, and care.”
FCPS Pride, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization for employees and other adults affiliated with FCPS, played a leading role in advocating for FCPS to take a firm stance against Youngkin’s policies and in favor of transgender and gender-expansive student rights.
FCPS Pride co-chair Robert Rigley Jr. says the state guidelines — which he nicknames the “Don’t Be Trans” policy — make transgender and non-binary students feel unwelcome in Virginia schools and “remove civil and human rights.”
“[The policy] makes it so that some adults have veto power over someone’s gender identity, which from a queer person’s point of view is absurd,” Rigley Jr. said. “…It steals agency in particular from transgender children. It says that you are not in control of your identity at a very basic level, and it turns families and schools against one another, battling over children who are among the most vulnerable children in this state.”
“It traumatizes a whole generation of queer kids in Virginia,” he continued.
FCPS Pride and nine other community organizations held a rally at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) in Merrifield. Originally intended as a protest for FCPS to take a clear stance against Youngkin’s policies, the rally transformed into a celebration after the release of Reid’s statement.
“I wanted to share that the morning that this round of these policies came out, my high school student came to me with tears in his eyes and literally said, ‘Can’t we just exist?'” Chris McCormick, a mother of two openly transgender FCPS students, said. “Today I was proud to share with him, ‘Yes, you can.'”
“We’re glad to see that our school district is one that’s going to stand up when our students are facing abuse at the state level,” first grade teacher Emily Vanderhoff echoed. “You know, school is starting up in less than a week. I know I’ve heard from these families who the parents and their children have been scared to see what school is going to look like for their child when they walk in the door on Monday. And I know that teachers and other school staff want to affirm these students, and they need to know that their district has their back.“
Others also used the rally as an opportunity to denounce Youngkin’s administration for promoting what they see as regressive and harmful policies.
“[This is] teaching the rest of the commonwealth a lesson on how to handle a bully because that’s what Glenn Youngkin is and his administration are,” Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) said. “They’re an administration full of bullies. They’re taking out their frustration and anger and distracting us from their own failings by picking on our trans and nonbinary students. The only way to stand up to them is to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it, go away, leave us alone.’ We’re going to do it the right way here in Fairfax County.”
The rally was followed by a march of over 80 community members along the west side of Gallows Road in sight of the WMAL broadcast tower, a location “specifically” chosen “to label that there are ‘media’ that generate animosity towards LGBTQ people,” according to Rigley Jr.
Though activists in attendance of the rally took yesterday night as a rare victory, many cautioned that the battle is far from over, encouraging more people to get involved with their local community and vote in local officials who will protect transgender rights.
“The fight for human rights against an enemy that’s seeking to seize the rights of women, of minorities, of immigrants, LGBTQIA — it’s real,” said Mateo Dunne, who is seeking to represent the Mount Vernon District on the school board and said he has an openly gay daughter. “And with the radical Supreme Court and the radical governor, with radical candidates for president, we have to fight, now and everyday for the rest of our lives to ensure everyone’s basic human rights and dignity are respected.”
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