I oppose the 2022 Model Policies. I am the proud father of a transgender son who graduated from high school in Virginia this year and has just started college. He is happy and well adjusted, which I attribute in large part to the supportive environment staff were able to provide in middle school and high school. Even before my wife or I were able to talk to him constructively about his feelings, he found support in knowledgeable school counselors and teachers who helped him understand what he was learning about himself. As he was exploring his identity, he was free to use a name other than his legal name and pronouns other than those corresponding to his gender assigned at birth, which helped reduce the anxieties that he was facing. And the school was free to use that name on school records and email addresses, which also reduced his anxiety. Finally, all teachers used his preferred name which was crucial during this time.
The 2021 Model Guidelines document about how transgender students are at higher risk of adverse mental health outcomes, harassment, lower academic performance, suicidal ideation, and homelessness, and I shudder to think of what my son might have experienced if he did not have the supportive environment he had in Virginia schools. Yet, the 2022 Guidelines would outlaw many of the supportive services that my son received. Speaking from experience, it can take time for even a loving parent to accept the reality of their transgender child’s identity, and it could be unhealthy to force a child to seek parental written permission to use a preferred name and pronouns at school. And because a child’s safety is at issue, given the rate of suicides among transgender children, I do not believe a public school teacher has a First Amendment right to decline to use the child’s preferred name or pronouns.
Further, as a lawyer, I do not think that VDOE is using the proper procedures to adopt the 2022 Model Policies. Because all Virginia school boards must set policies that are consistent with them, they set legally binding requirements and are not a guidance document but rather a regulation. Therefore, the expedited process that VDOE is using for guidance documents under Virginia Code § 2.2-4002.1 is not appropriate. Instead, VDOE must follow the more robust notice and comment requirements of the Virginia Administrative Process Act for regulations.
In addition, the 2022 Model Policies do not follow the requirements of Virginia Code § 22.1-23.3. That statute empowers VDOE to adopt “model policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools that address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices.” However, some of the provisions in the 2022 Model Policies (such as the nondiscrimination and anti-bullying provisions) do not specifically address transgender students at all, and VDOE provides no evidence to show that any of the provisions in the 2022 Model Policies are best practices for the treatment for transgender students. Moreover, VDOE does not refute or even address the substantial evidence cited by VDOE in support of the 2021 Model Policies.
For these reasons, as a parent and a lawyer, I ask that VDOE change its course and not adopt the 2022 Model Policies.