Community reacts to Gov. Youngkin’s transgender policy

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Community reacts to Gov. Youngkin’s transgender policy
Opponents to the newly proposed policies argue that politics should not be forced upon children in educational settings (File photo)
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By Kassidy McDonald [email protected]

The Alexandria community is reacting to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s announcement of updated model policies for transgender students, which were released last month. Known by the Virginia Department of Education as the Privacy, Dignity and Respect policies, the proposal has sparked debate not just in Alexandria City Public Schools, but all across Virginia regarding the protection of transgender students in a classroom environment.

Under the official new guidelines, “For any athletic program or activity that is separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex; Students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex; Overnight travel accommodations, locker rooms and other intimate spaces used for school-related activities and events shall be based on sex; For any school program, event, or activity, including extracurricular activities that are separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex; [School Division] personnel shall 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;” where ‘sex’ refers to biological sex and not gender identity.

The guiding principles of these model policies state that parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children; schools shall respect parents’ values and beliefs; schools shall defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children; schools shall keep parents informed about their children’s well-being; schools shall serve the needs of all students; schools shall partner with parents; and schools shall respect all students.

The policies indicate that transgender students will have to use the bathrooms based on their assigned sex at birth, use athletic facilities based on their assigned sex at birth and join athletic teams based on their assigned sex at birth, rather than the gender with which they identify. This means these students will only be referred in the classroom by their legal names that appear on their birth certificates. The newly proposed policies force educators to re- veal gender identities to parents, or to “come out” about their gender identity when they may not be ready.

Supporters of the new policies argue it would grant parents the right to have control over their children’s education and classroom experiences. Opponents to the newly proposed policies argue that politics should not be forced upon children in educational settings like schools.

On Sept. 27 and 28, students and faculty at more than 100 Virginia participated in walkouts to protest the new model policies. The walkouts were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, which according to their website is the only student-led organization advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in Virginia. Entirely led by high school students in Virginia, The Pride Liberation Project “works to create empowering schools and communities for all LGBTQIA+ students in Fairfax County and Virginia.”

Arlington County Public Schools, which included multiple middle schools and high schools, and Fairfax County Public Schools, participated in walkout protests on Sept. 27. Alexandria City Public Schools did not have a student-led walkout, according to Julia Burgos, ACPS’ chief of school and community relations.

“ACPS did not have any student walkouts at our schools on Tues., Sept. 27, in response to Governor Youngkin’s model policies affect- ing transgender students in Virginia school divisions. Students, staff and families were informed of our school division’s response to these policies via the joint message sent from the School Board chair and the superintendent on Sept. 19, 2022,” Burgos said in an official statement.

In response to the model policies that were released on Sept. 17, the ACPS community received a statement from School Board chair Meagan Alderton and Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. The letter detailed that the school system heard concerns from many parents, students and families, so ACPS felt it necessary to reach out and ensure that the district is working to protect its transgender students.

“We want to assure you that ACPS will continue its commitment to both implement and develop gender affirming policies for all ACPS students,” the official letter reads. “As a School Board and division, we are concerned with these ‘model policies’ that do not align with our mission, vision and core values to support all students and staff, in particular that we provide a welcoming environment for everyone in our school community.”

The letter goes on to state that the “‘model policies’ seek to undermine this vital work and set the clock back on the gains we have accomplished as a school division to place racial equity at the heart of our work … We will continue to review and develop all policies with an equity lens.”

ACPS parents took to Twitter to express their appreciation for ACPS’ pushback. One user stated, “As an Alexandria resident I am glad the school board pushed back on Youngkin,” while another wrote, “Alexandria to Youngkin: Nope.” Several School Board members like Ashley Simpson Baird and Kelly Carmicheal Booz also changed their Twitter profile pictures to an image of a transgender button that says “ACPS PROTECTS TRANS KIDS.”

“There is much work to do in the 2022-23 school year, and the Alexandria City School Board and the leadership and staff of Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) are focused on our students’ social-emotional and academic learning. These “model policies” are a distraction to the real work at hand to educate our students and our need to focus on unfinished learning. We have expressed our concern to the ACPS community that the “model policies” issued by Gov. Youngkin and his team do not align with our mission, vision and core values. In keeping with our 2025 Strategic Equity for All Plan, we are committed to support all students and staff, in particular our core value of ensuring that we provide a welcoming environment for everyone in our school community,” Alderton said in a statement to the Times.

Student representatives for ACPS could not be reached for comment.

Though not yet in place due to a 30-day public comment period, the policies are set to take effect on Oct. 27.

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