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Virginia finalizes guidance on transgender students, including rolling back some accommodations

Virginia , (Qnnflash) – Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration announced on Tuesday that it has finalized new policies regarding the treatment of transgender students in the state’s schools. These guidelines will direct school districts to make adjustments to current accommodations and increase parental notification requirements concerning certain discussions related to gender identity.

Governor Youngkin has stated that these policies, despite facing criticism from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups since their initial unveiling last year, aim to empower parents while also preventing discrimination and ensuring a safe learning environment.

According to Youngkin, these policies have been carefully crafted to prioritize the best interests of the child and to respect the privacy, dignity, and rights of all children and parents within the school system. The proposed changes were initially put forward by the Republican governor’s administration in September 2022, leading to protests from student activists across the state. After a public comment period, the Virginia Department of Education reviewed tens of thousands of opinions before finalizing the guidelines. Under a 2020 state law, school boards will now be expected to adopt policies consistent with the department’s guidance.

The finalized policies recommend that students’ participation in certain school programs and their use of facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms should align with their sex assigned at birth, with modifications only made as required by federal law.

One key addition in the final version is the inclusion of an “opt out” provision. Parents can request that their children have access to a sex-separated facility in cases where laws mandate the sharing of such facilities between transgender and cisgender students.

The guidelines also emphasize that minors must be addressed by the names and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves an alternative. Additionally, parental notification is addressed, with the guidelines stating that school divisions should not encourage teachers to withhold information about a student’s gender identity from parents. The final version has added a reminder that school divisions must comply with a state law regarding communication about perceived imminent risks of suicide by a student.

Moreover, parents must be given an opportunity to object before gender-related counseling services are offered.

These revisions mark a departure from previous guidelines issued in 2021 during the administration of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. The previous guidelines allowed students to use names and gender pronouns reflecting their gender identity without needing evidence. They also encouraged schools to enable students to participate in programming and access facilities aligned with their gender identity.

Conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups have praised the changes, emphasizing parental rights. However, Democratic lawmakers and LGBTQ advocacy groups have expressed strong opposition, asserting that these changes could endanger already vulnerable transgender and nonbinary youth.

It remains to be seen how school districts, especially those in more liberal areas of the state, will respond to these guidelines. While Virginia initially developed its guidelines in accordance with a 2020 bipartisan law, which required the Department of Education to create policies related to the treatment of transgender students, many school boards did not adopt the first set of guidelines.

Some LGBTQ+ advocates have hinted that these changes could be contested legally. Youngkin has previously stated that decisions regarding medical care for transgender children should be made by parents, in consultation with the child and a trusted medical professional. He reiterated this stance, asserting that decisions related to a child’s education, upbringing, and care should always begin with parents’ input. Youngkin declined to answer whether he would veto a bill restricting or banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, a measure that several other Republican-led states have recently passed.

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