OPINION: What are the Dept. of Education's New "Model Policies"?
Updated: Nov 6
By Dew Adams -- Eagle News Staff Writer
This past summer, the Virginia Department of Education approved a new set of policies aimed specifically at LGBTQ+ students. Despite being named “Model Policies on Ensuring the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia Public Schools” these policies appear to do the exact opposite. I strongly implore readers to read the full policy to better protect LGBTQ+ individuals you know.
The policy document begins by saying, “All students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying." This on paper sounds nice. A school without discrimination and harassment should be the norm, so the Department of Education doing something to protect that sounds wonderful. However, when you read the rest of the policy, it becomes clear that really isn’t what the policy actually does.
For example, “School division policies shall therefore implement the requirements of this Act in a manner that ensures no student is discriminated against or harassed on the basis of his or her sex.” Notice how the policy doesn’t say students are protected from
gender discrimination. “Sex” is based on things like biological and physiological characteristics (reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, and so on.) Gender, however, is the socially constructed side of things, or what society says your sex means about you and your identity as an individual. For the record, gender is what most trans people are trying to change about themselves. This policy effectively therefore means transGENDER students are not protected from discrimination. How then can these policies be said to protect the dignity of and respect for “all” students?
The policy also says parents “have the right to make decisions with respect to their children” which once again sounds great but how far does that right go? Where this policy is concerned, it means the right “to determine (a) what names, nicknames, and/or pronouns, if any, shall be used for their child by teachers and school staff while their child is at school, (b) whether their child engages in any counseling or social transition at school that encourages a gender that differs from their child’s sex, or (c) whether their child expresses a gender that differs with their child’s sex while at school.” In simple terms this means that parents - not students - have the final say in what name a student goes by at school, including their pronouns.
There’s more. “To ensure parents are able to make the best decisions with respect to their child, school personnel shall keep parents fully informed about all matters that may be reasonably expected to be important to a parent, including, and without limitation, matters related to their child’s health, and social and psychological development." This essentially says that teachers have to tell a student’s parents if they are going by another name or different pronouns at school, effectively outing them without their consent. As a trans person, one of your first lines of defense is choosing who, and who not to, be out to. This policy eliminates that protection.
How does this all specifically play out on campus day to day?
“[School Division] personnel shall refer to each student using only (i) the name that appears in the student’s official record, or (ii) if the student prefers, using any nickname commonly associated with the name that appears in the student’s official record”.
“Overnight travel accommodations, locker rooms, and other intimate spaces used for school-related activities and events shall be based on sex. [School Division] shall provide reasonable modifications to this policy only to the extent required by law.”
“[School Division] shall not compel personnel or other students to address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights.”
What exactly does a “nickname commonly associated with the name” even mean? Does it mean a student with the unfortunate first name of Bobert, for example, couldn’t ask to be called their middle name? What if your name doesn't have any common nicknames? And the same applies to pronouns - do they know some people have already transitioned partially? There are students here on testosterone or estrogen to transition and who no longer look like their biological sex. Wouldn’t it be weird to call them by their sex-based pronouns by that point?
Then there's the part about requiring students to use bathrooms that match their sex. Wouldn’t you be alarmed if you're a guy and a girl walks into the boys’ bathroom and while you're freaking out, they reply, “Oh yeah sorry. Thanks to the hormones I look like a girl but I was born a boy so here I am!”
As for constitutionally protected free speech, do trans students not have that same right with regard to their name and pronouns? Does a teacher’s free speech not include the right to honor a student’s name and pronoun preferences? Does dignity and respect not include students’ right to self-determination and the right to equal treatment within the classroom?
As far as we know, no attempts to change our school's policies have been made. FCPS has examined the issue and feels its current policies are already within compliance. Still, I find this entire thing very deceptive. From the name of the policy, to the constant almost frantic restating of anti-bullying rules, to the core content of the policies, this to me feels like a thinly-veiled attempt to kick the trans student body while it’s down. With everything going down in other states, it just is a real downer that our home state is joining in.
The actual policy is linked above so that you may read it for yourself and form your own opinion. Take care of yourself in these trying times, and remember to use the voice you have.