VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach’s school board is one of several across the Commonwealth that has decided not to follow Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policy about how transgender students are recognized in schools.
On Tuesday night, the board voted down a resolution by member Vicki Manning that would make schools follow the policy exactly as the governor’s administration wrote it.
Five board members voted in favor of the model policy, five voted against and one board member, Jennifer Franklin, abstained.
The resolution was proposed by Manning to align the school division with the Youngkin Administration’s model policies to give parents the right to dictate a child’s preferred name and pronoun.
The model guidelines under previous governor Ralph Northam gave students the right to privacy and the power to choose their name and pronouns without parental involvement.
The 2021 policy had recommended that teachers create a plan for students whose parents did not agree with them on their new name and pronouns, with the policy “addressing the student at school with their name and pronoun consistent with their gender identity while using the legal name and pronoun associated with the sex assigned at birth when communicating with parents.”
The current VDOE guidelines state that “no policy … may encourage teachers to conceal information about a student from the student’s parent, including information relating to gender.”
A school board member told 10 On Your Side on Wednesday that this wasn’t a full rejection of the governor’s policy, but instead allows the school district to make modifications to it.
“It needs to come from our policy review committee,” said board member Beverly Anderson. “That’s where the changes need to come from, not from a resolution that just locks us in 100% to the governor’s model policies.”
Anderson added: “For example, if a student wants to be called J instead of John, or wants to be called J instead of Jane, that type of thing. There’s a reason why they have not come out to their parents yet and so, we need to be able to find out if the parent feels, but I mean if the student feels, that they are at risk.”
On Tuesday night, dozens of current Virginia Beach public school students spoke against the resolution.
“If your true goal is to protect every student, you must acknowledge the students who simply want to feel secure in school when they may not have the same privileges at home,” said Salem High School sophomore Bethany Wilmoth.
Meanwhile, many parents urged board members to approve the state’s model guidelines.
“Do we really care about transgender students?” one speaker said, “or are we really more focused on denying the basic human right of parents to determine what is best for their child’s mental health?”
In July, the Virginia Department of Education released an 18-page document — Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools — outlining its guidance on how transgender and nonbinary students should be treated in Virginia schools.
VDOE’s model policies are meant to place focus on parental involvement in a child’s experience at school. The guidelines suggest that school officials should “defer to parents in decisions about a child’s identity, and keep parents informed about their child’s wellbeing.”
Dozens of people at the school board meeting spoke out in favor and against VDOE’s model policies.
In a tweet on the X platform (formerly Twitter), Youngkin said “this is a parent moment, not a political moment. Today, parents in Virginia are empowered because they are in charge of their children’s lives not bureaucrats.”
The Spotsylvania County and Roanoke school divisions have adopted the state’s model policies. Meanwhile, the Virginia Mercury said school divisions in Arlington, Fairfax and Richmond will not consider adopting the VDOE guidelines, while it noted many school divisions largely ignored Northam’s transgender policies. Inside NoVa has reported that Prince William County Schools has also rejected the state’s new model policies.
Gov. Youngkin said on Fox that the policy is law and that the school districts don’t have a choice in adopting it, but Anderson with Virginia Beach’s board told WAVY it isn’t law but a recommendation to follow.
On Thursday, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares in an official opinion said he believes that the model policies comply with federal and state nondiscrimination laws.
“This official Attorney General Opinion simply confirms what the overwhelming number of Virginians already know; parents have a fundamental right to the care, upbringing, and education of their children,” Miyares said. “Parents, not government, are in the best position to work with their children on important life decisions, and no parent signs up to co-parent with the government. In fact, the rights of parents are one of our oldest and most fundamental liberty interests. The Model Policies ensure that all students are treated with dignity and that parental involvement remains at the center. These policies are fully compliant with the law, and school boards across the Commonwealth should support and implement them. It’s not just common sense, it’s the law.”
“We are not asking for much,” added Kellam High School junior AJ Quartararo on Tuesday in speaking against the state’s guidelines. “We are not asking for extra attention, or even for your full understanding of our identities. We are only asking for respect, for safety and for equity.”
Meanwhile, a parent of a transgender child is glad the Virginia Beach School Board voted against the policy, strictly as it is.
“I personally think they’re dangerous to our LGBTQ students,” said Cody Conner. “I think it plays a dangerous precedent. I think he’s playing politics with our kids’ lives.”