The Youngkin administration recently unveiled its policies for the treatment of transgender children in Virginia public schools that are unnecessarily cruel and potentially harmful as written but that ultimately may not change a thing in commonwealth classrooms.
Virginia passed legislation in 2020 specifically designed to protect these children, which many school districts ignored without repercussions. There’s no guarantee that the governor’s political showboating will have a more substantive effect.
More likely is that this policy will further divide Virginia public schools into two parallel systems: one in which these paltry few young people are treated with the respect and dignity afforded all of their peers, and one in which they are singled out for ostracization, ridicule and shame.
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The Virginia General Assembly passed a law two years ago requiring the state Department of Education to regulate the treatment of transgender students in public schools. The intent behind this law is clear, as former Gov. Ralph Northam stated when signing it.
“In Virginia, we fully expect our schools to treat transgender students — like all students — with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Northam said. “This bill represents an important step towards making Virginia more welcoming and inclusive of all.”
The 2020 legislation directed the VDOE to draft policies to protect the rights of these most vulnerable students. The law ordered school districts to adopt the new model by the end of the 2021-22 school year, but included no penalty for a failure to do so.
Now, there was plenty to occupy school officials and administrators in the period between 2020 and 2022, but while some school systems eagerly embraced the new guidelines, others rejected them outright. Still others adopted guidelines outlined by the Virginia School Boards Association, which that organization contends meets the requirements of state law.
Without an enforcement mechanism, however, school districts that refused to adopt these protections have faced no penalty. So far. It’s possible they might face lawsuits from students and families, but nobody expects the Youngkin administration to pressure them.
The governor made that abundantly clear with the release of this new policy model which cynically begins by declaring that schools should be “free from discrimination, harassment or bullying” — and proceeds to ensure transgender kids will face those very things simply because they are who they are.
How is it dignified to use the “dead name” of a child in transition or insist on using the wrong pronouns? How is it respectful to force children to use a bathroom that doesn’t align with their identity? Perhaps the governor can provide some explanation.
Given the choice between compassion and cruelty, the Youngkin administration embraced the latter and is advancing an effort that will make life even more miserable for kids just trying to figure out who they are in the world.
The governor says he wants “divisive concepts” out of schools. He’s got a funny way of showing it.