Dear Virginia Department of Education ,
I just read your 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia Public Schools. I must say, it seems to be misnamed. Nowhere in this document is the privacy, dignity, or respect of the student addressed. There is a lot of information on what rights parents have. There is a lot of “peers shouldn’t bully peers” and “this is what cyberbullying looks like”, but nowhere is there any consideration given to the student’s rights, dignity, or access to personal development/exploration.
Your introduction says, “As a part of that work, educators strive to meet the individual needs of all students entrusted to their care, and teachers work to create educational environments where all students thrive. The Virginia Department of Education... recognizes that each child is a unique individual with distinctive abilities and characteristics that should be valued and respected. All students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying. The Department supports efforts to protect and encourage respect for all students. Thus, we have a collective responsibility to address topics such as the treatment of transgender students with necessary compassion and respect for all students.” It should be followed up with “but we’re here to destroy this in the name of the parents.”
Nowhere is there anything that addresses what to do when these things come into conflict. Nowhere is there any guidelines of what to do for conflict-resolution. Everything says, “the parent’s word goes,” which is stupid and naive. According to you, parents are gods and goddesses, since this document does not seriously consider the needs or mental health of the child. It doesn’t look into the issues transgender youth deal with. Students don’t usually thrive when their parents are controlling them at a distance.
Parents aren’t mental health professionals, and shouldn’t be assumed to be such. Rarely, especially in middle and high school, do parents understand their kids. The teachers and counselors should be able to judge whether a situation is safe to raise the issue. It shouldn't be a blanket requirement.
Few parents can talk freely with their kids about such sensitive sex/gender topics; mostly because they’ve made their opinions quite clear, and kids don’t want to deal with it, risk it, or disappoint their parents. Or because the parents don’t like talking about it, or can’t really discuss it short of throwing around religious slogans or trite phrases. Don’t assume the ideal situation is the reality. It rarely is.
Also of note, is the noticeable lack of “transgender”-specific school-related content or anything that might show that you looked at the other side of the argument. Very few of the documents you quote address the specific concerns and problems faced by transgender youth. None of the Resources even address transgender specifically or exclusively. It’s almost like you don’t want to look at what you should be doing to help this community.
None of your arguments talk about what happens when parents hurt their children with their intractability. None of your own explanation of the rules even mentions transgender youth problems. You don't address issues with suicide and depression. Since this involves that group of people, shouldn’t some text about it be included? You don’t even recognize a student as “transgender” unless their parent agrees with it. Which is a pretty big problem, since if parents agree with their children’s alignment or lack of it, there are not issues.
Which “9,000+ comments submitted to the Department during the public comment period in 2021” did you look at? How many were from ticked off parents and religious leaders? Were any from the children themselves or their supporters?
This whole thing is to justify a horrible rule that eliminates a vital support system, and undercuts the whole purpose of counseling. Therapists and counselors are not required to tell parents everything they talked about with the student/patient. Teachers often have that role too.
Parents aren’t always the best determiners of what their child actually needs. They often are blinded by what they want their child to be, how they expect children of a certain sex to act, or how their own upbringing might make them think.
If the 14th Amendment and parents’ rights are so overarching, why do we have CPS or any child-protection laws? Could it be that parents aren’t the perfect arbiters of morals that this document implies? If students are to be treated as individuals, so should parents. Making it a requirement to let parents know everything ignores the fact that the student (the person the school should be focused on, whom it is the school’s duty to partly raise) might not be able to talk to their parents about things.
So, you’re saying, teachers can’t protect kids from their abusive parents. They can’t be confidantes or supporters that can help them without letting their parents know. They can’t use their best judgment in dealing with issues. Really?
Why should a trained professional’s professional ethics and experience be superseded by a parent’s preference? I’d say most of this document frames this as a “religious rights” issue, which it isn’t. If parents’ religious beliefs can decide what a student learns in a public school (which affects a lot of non-believers), when will we stop teaching earth science, evolution, and the sun-centric solar system because it might tick off the creationists? We’re already removing real history because some parents object. We’ve killed most informative sex education because some parents disapprove.
If the parents object so vehemently, maybe they should home-school or send them to religious schools. That is what the “parents right to determine education” really means. When did we stop listening to people who actually studied education?
The minute you contact “social services” for suicidal trans or gay kids with abusive parents, guess what? The parents are informed, which is what the kids don’t need. According to you, the parents should be able to raise their kids how they want… so guess what the social services is likely to do? Defer to the parents.
There needs to be a middle ground, based on circumstances. There needs to be some way a kid can get help from teachers or counselors privately. Because sometimes that help guides them to understand their parents and see what they might be missing. Making teachers etc. essentially informants removes that guidance, making the children suspicious, paranoid, and unwilling to ask for help.
So, according to this guidance, teachers and school administrators can bully trans-kids. Peers can't. None of your high-sounding language about protecting kids from bullying takes into account that demanding they are called certain pronouns is bullying. It’s insisting they conform in a way that damages them psychologically. Same thing with dress codes.
Even you admit that legally, gender dysphoria is a “disability”. That means accommodations must be made, and calling them a different pronoun or name is hardly “excessive” or “an undue burden”. That is the yardstick you’re supposed to use.
Or are you trying to use the ableist argument that since they are “disabled” they can be controlled even more, that their needs should be ignored if their caregiver decides it? Which isn’t what that decision means, and directly contradicts Code of Virginia, § 2.2-3900, et seq., which you also quote.
Honestly, the only thing I liked in this whole document was the suggested policy that required single-person bathrooms be available in reasonable numbers.
I think Grimm v Glouchester and Williams v. Kincaid are the only times you mention transgender people in any sort of supportive way. Everything else defends parents and the rights of a teacher to offend and abuse the students.
“Parent engagement in school” doesn’t mean they have veto power, and it doesn’t mean the students should be reported on. It means that when a parent forms a partnership with the teachers, when they take a positive active role in their kid’s learning, the kids react well. It shouldn’t mean they can get books banned arbitrarily. It doesn’t mean they are the captain of the ship either.
“Parental engagement” also depends on the parent. Some parents are extremely toxic, not only to their kids, but the school, teachers, and community. But they should be given free rein to form policy and instruction? Few of the parents that want this ever engage with schools in a partnership way. They regard schools and teachers with suspicion.
Nowhere are the wants and needs of the student even addressed. Nowhere is there any expectation of parents listening to or interacting with teachers in any way that isn’t dictatorial. Beyond a “partnership goal". Where they officially have the right to “review and comment” on things like books and instruction, you give them the power to stop it all together. Laws meant to prevent the release of information, you take as proof that parents can do whatever they want.
According to you they have total “control” over their kids. Which is pretty r/insaneparents actually.
The statutes you quote about privacy say parents have the right to “review” and “alter” official records. In other words, no one else should be able to do that. That has nothing to do with what goes on in a classroom, how teachers/peers etc. address students. It has nothing to do with how the child refers to themselves. So why is this used to justify a parent having to officially agree to what their child is called by a teacher?
A lot of the laws you quote are meant to prevent/do one thing, but you claim they do another. You expand their reach beyond their purview or twist what they mean to say. The mere fact that you do this proves that this is a document of ideology not real policy. And if schools or state institutions try to push ideology, that’s bad, right? Especially if it’s harmful to the students’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
How do you not see how contradictory these three suggested policy items are? Or is this that ridiculous “you’re only transgender if your parents say you are” thing?:
“1. Every effort should be made to ensure that a transgender student wishing to change his or her means of address is treated with respect, compassion, and dignity in the classroom and school environment.
2. [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.
3. [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.
How is that showing respect, compassion or dignity to the student?
So, basically, what your document is saying is “Schools shall respect all students” and “Schools shall serve all students” but not really. Because when what the student’s needs conflicts with the parent’s desires, “Schools shall defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children”. No debate, no exceptions. Parents rule. Which is stupid and dangerous, as well as extremely contradictory with what you say elsewhere.
You pay lip-service to caring about the children, but you don’t allow them to be themselves. You frame this as being reasonable, but it’s not. You offer excuse after excuse on why you are “obligated” to kowtow to parents at the expense of their children. You don’t address the needs of the students with gender dysphoria, or how “sex-based sports participants are restricted according to biological sex” goes against Williams v. Kincaid.
This is VA DOE mostly washing their hands of a complicated situation, claiming they can't interfere. It is stupid, cruel and short-sighted. But what else should I expect from a department that thinks “divisive issues” like slavery, negative history, gender issues, and sexual orientation should be banned from schools. When is science going to be considered “divisive?” Certain facts and theories certainly contradict religious doctrine. Will it fall to “religious freedom” too?
If you can’t teach the facts, what’s the point of education? If you can’t support the mental health of students who should not be discriminated against according to the law, how can you claim to “care about all students”? How can you help a student thrive by insisting that he or she be called names and pronouns that give them dysphoria and make them suicidal? How can you claim to be non-discriminatory when your teachers, administrators, etc. model discriminatory, disrespectful, and bullying behavior in front of their students? What does that tell the other students about what is “acceptable behavior” to those with gender dysphoria? And why can’t people given the task of running a Department of Education not see the problem here?
I know this is long, but you gave me a lot to work with. In brief, this policy stinks and does only half of what it claims to be written to do. And none of that helps the student, just the parents.
And just remember, these students are going to be voters, some of them really soon.
-- L. E. P.
Boston, Virginia 22713