News & Politics

What Virginia’s New School Guidelines Could Mean for Trans Youth

People can submit their opinions during a 30-day public comment period that opens later this month.

Virginia’s trans youth could be navigating reinstated public-school restrictions regarding their gender identity next month after Gov. Glenn Youngkin released new “model policies” on Friday. 

The new guidelines—which school districts are set to adopt in some form next month—largely roll back on gender-affirming changes made by former Gov. Ralph Northam, which were just put in place last year.

Critics of Youngkin’s new guidelines say they will open trans students—of which there are an estimated 6,200 in Virginia—to more bullying and higher rates of depression. On the other side, supporters say the changes preserve “parental rights.”

For now, here’s what’s in the new policy and how it could affect trans youth:

They may have to use school facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that match the sex they were assigned at birth. 

On page 18, the new guidelines state that “students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.”

However, that caveat at the end—”except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires”—could muddy Youngkin’s ability to enforce this rule. As The Washington Post points out: Given that a 2020 federal appeals court found a Virginia school board guilty of violating the 14th Amendment when it blocked a transgender student from using the bathroom of his gender identity, the new rule could face similar litigation.

Additionally, while the new model does restrict trans public-school students to bathrooms aligning with their biological sex, it also stipulates that single-user bathrooms and facilities “be made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students.”

They could be restricted to programs and extracurricular activities that match the sex they were assigned at birth.

On page 17, the new guidelines state that when it comes to “any school program, event, or activity, including extracurricular activities that are separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex.”

According to the guidelines, this includes athletic programs. But again, it comes with the legal caveat: “to the extent required by federal law.”

They will need written parental consent to be called their preferred names and pronouns.

According to page 16 of the new guidelines, teachers and other public-school personnel must call students by the name and/or nicknames written on their official documents and records. Likewise, school personnel must use the pronouns corresponding with the sex on a student’s official record.

There’s one exception: Personnel can call the student by their preferred name if they have written consent from their parents instructing the school to do so. (This applies only to students who are minors, and not over the age of 18.) But even then, according to the updated guidelines state, teachers would not be required to follow the parents’ instructions, if they feel it violates their right to free speech.

It will be harder to change their gender on official documents.

According to page 16 of the guidelines, the sex listed on a student’s official documents can only be changed if a parent of a minor submits “a legal document, such as a birth certificate, state- or federal-issued identification, passport, or court order substantiating the student or former student’s change of legal name or sex.”

The parents of minors can deny them gender counseling, if they choose to do so.

While the guidelines state on page 15 that “each school shall make reasonably available, with available resources, guidance and counseling services to all students,” it adds that “parents must be informed and given an opportunity to object before counseling services pertaining to gender are given.”

The new changes likely won’t come without legal challenge. Democratic Del. Danica Roem has already argued the new guidelines violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, tweeting, “If you want a debate, then we’ll see you at a microphone. If you want to break the law, then we’ll see you in court.”

Before the guidelines go into effect next month, people can submit public comment during a 30-day window that opens later this month and closes on October 26.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor