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What the Virginia Department of Education’s New Policies Mean for Trans Students

Trans Rights and Virginia Model Policies

It is the position of The Geller Law Group, that the 2022 Model Policies released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) on Friday, September 16th are transphobic and incredibly dangerous for young transgender students. While these guidelines have not yet gone into effect and could still be changed before school districts enact them, they pose a clear threat to the safety of transgender students across Virginia.

The new policies prioritize the rights of parents to surveil and control their children over the safety of transgender students. It is important to remember that these are just model policies and guidelines and the final policies that ultimately go into effect will differ in each school district, but these policies indicate a clear move away from protecting the rights of transgender students. This change comes as a wave of anti-transgender legislation has swept across the country, with this legislation often targeting young transgender children.

One of the most drastic shifts is the definition of a “transgender student,” which the VDOE defines 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 with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school.” This new definition gives parents the power to decide their child’s identity and prevents students from determining their own gender identity.

Under these new guidelines, students must use the bathrooms, and pronouns, and participate in programs like sports that are associated with their sex assigned at birth. School employees are expected to keep parents informed about their children’s well-being, which could mean outing transgender students to their parents when students choose to confide in a teacher or other school official.

Furthermore, schools are required to maintain records with a student’s legal name and sex assigned at birth. Even with written permission from a parent, these records cannot be changed without official legal documents or a court order. Teachers and school employees are expected to use a student’s legal name or a related nickname. Even if a student has completed the paperwork needed to change their name in school documents, school officials do not have to refer to them by their correct name and pronouns if it “would violate their constitutionally protected rights.”

For transgender students in Virginia, these new policies are overwhelming, hard to navigate, and scary. While these new policies are most likely going to face legal and constitutional challenges in the coming months, it is important to know how this will impact transgender students. Before these changes go into effect, Virginia residents have the opportunity to comment on the proposed policy by October 26, 2022. The VDOE will then review comments and the model policies will await final approval from the state superintendent.

The Geller Law Group is available to help connect students and families with helpful resources, such as Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned initiative, in response to policies and movements targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

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