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  11:29 pm
Commenter: Erika St. Dennis

I teach middle school in Virginia. This legislation would harm, not help.

   I have taught in Virginia public schools since 1992. In that time, I have seen educational trends come and go and reappear again. My constant in this maelstrom of programs has been my concern for students: their education and their welfare. We teachers are tasked with fostering critical thinking, lifelong learning skills, and responsible citizenship. To that end, respecting a student’s identity—-religious, cultural, and gender—-is a critical part of my job. School is the only safe place that some students have to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly. To mandate that teachers ignore fundamental aspects of a student’s life and identity, and to risk opening that student to danger from adults at home, goes against everything that I feel applies to my job. Data from reliable and unbiased organizations show again and again that transgender and gender-nonconforming students are much more likely than other students to attempt or complete suicide. These students need more support and compassion, not less. Parents have rights, but a student’s safety and well-being are paramount, which is why our Commonwealth has safety nets in place to protect minors. Data from neonatologists show that it is surprisingly common for babies to be born with intersex features. If a parent chooses to have certain genitalia removed, then it stands to reason that at times the parent chose to remove the part that the child identifies with in mind and body. Transgender and gender-nonconfirming issues are neither political nor religious. They are simply one more aspect of being human. As society is educated about the spectrum of human existence, proposed legislation like this will become obsolete, and that energy will be replaced by support for what we teachers do best: educating all children to be well-rounded, competent, and independent citizens. Thank you for allowing me to express my disapproval of this proposed legislation and to stand up for the students of this great Commonwealth.

CommentID: 202853