Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: Every day, throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, educators and school leaders work to ensure that all students have an opportunity to receive a high-quality education. 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 (the “Department”) 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. The Department also fully acknowledges the rights of parents to exercise their fundamental rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children. The Code of Virginia reaffirms the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated. Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia. The Department is mindful of constitutional protections that prohibit governmental entities from requiring individuals to adhere to or adopt a particular ideological belief. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom and prohibits the government from compelling speech that is contrary to an individual’s personal or religious beliefs. The Department embarked on a thorough review of the Model Policies Guidance adopted on March 4, 2021 (the “2021 Model Policies”). The 2021 Model Policies promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools. The 2021 Model Policies also disregarded the rights of parents and ignored other legal and constitutional principles that significantly impact how schools educate students, including transgender students. With the publication of these 2022 Model Policies (the “2022 Model Policies”), the Department hereby withdraws the 2021 Model Policies, which shall have no further force and effect. The Department issues the 2022 Model Policies to provide clear, accurate, and useful guidance to Virginia school boards that align with statutory provisions governing the Model Policies. See Code of Virginia, § 22.1-23.3 (the “Act”). Significantly, the 2022 Model Policies also consider over 9,000 comments submitted to the Department during the public comment period for the 2021 Model Policies.
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10/26/22  10:46 pm
Commenter: Thomas Jefferson HS Senior (FCPS)

Policy fails to follow APA guidelines nor is nuanced enough to support most students

I understand that it is in most parents' best wishes to protect their children, however in regards to identity, communication should happen between parents and their children. Schools shouldn’t interfere with a students right to their own individuality and potentially harm a family. That’s why I believe the policy should be more nuanced to regard abusive home environments, different age groups, and different levels of care required

My experience with this issue comes firsthand as a nonbinary student who utilized school resources to overcome my own mental health crisis that came with the uncertainty in my own identity. Before I informed my parents I needed my own time to process my emotions and figure out what I was going to say to them. Informing them was tough, but I’m in a much better situation now because I told them at my own pace and was able to have healthy conversations with them about identity. Had the school violated my trust and went behind my back to inform my parents before I was ready my family would have fallen apart. My goal is to protect other students and families who are in a similar situation as I was by ensuring they have access to proper mental health resources. 

Consequently, I believe the state has made some crucial errors in their new policy. Firstly, the state must recognize that as a child grows, they gain a sense of identity and independence beyond that of their parents. A 17-year-olds understanding of their identity is vastly different from that of a 7-year-olds. A baseline policy regarding all ages of students as the same shows a clear lack of regard for developmental differences. Secondly, the state disregards American Psychological Association(APA) confidentiality standards. The APA ethics guidelines in section 4.07 clearly state that “Psychologists do not disclose…identifiable information concerning their clients/patients, students, research participants, organizational clients, or other recipients of their services''. School psychologists deal with some of the most mentally vulnerable youth and should therefore be held to professional grade standards. The Commonwealth of Virginia is also contradicting documentation by the APA. According to the Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People under Guideline 8, while best practice for children pre-adolescence currently needs more research, for adolescents and adults gender affirmation is solidly agreed upon as the approach with the most positive outcomes. Additionally under Guideline 5 of the same documentation, school psychologists(and other school officials) should promote a space of inclusivity, to reduce harassment of students based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The commonwealth ignoring decades of research and professional opinions can only serve to harm students. 

A sense of changing identity comes with potential mental health stressors. A student should choose the approach they wish to seek help. This includes access to school psychologists who follow APA guidelines on patient ethics, and allowing students to talk to  parents in a way they feel comfortable. Parents will be able to establish better communication with their child through a system like this which will keep family ties strong and healthy. This is the first of many steps to reach a nuanced middle ground so our schools remain safe learning spaces, and I encourage our government to have productive discourse with its citizens of varying viewpoints.  The draft model policy fails to be a nuanced order, meaning the new policy has more potential to alienate families from each other and harm students' mental health.


CommentID: 202616