RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–Public comment on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed transgender student policies closes on Wednesday at 11:59pm, kicking off next steps in what could be a lengthy process.
Responses on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website topped 66,000 as of Wednesday morning, dwarfing the 9,000 public comments on the previous model policy crafted under Democratic leadership that the new draft is intended to replace.
The proposed changes at the center of controversy would require written parental permission for pronoun and name changes in school. Parents would also be given a chance to object to gender-related counseling. Additionally, teachers wouldn’t be required to refer to students in a manner that violates their constitutional rights.
State Superintendent Jillian Balow said the Virginia Department of Education would sift through responses and search for themes using human reviewers and artificial intelligence. Balow has not identified any specific revisions she plans to make at this point.
In an interview on Monday, Balow said comments alleging violations of state law or regulations will trigger a 30-day delay in the effective date of the guidance document, during which the agency will respond by mail or electronically. She said it may take even longer than that to finalize the standards. At this point, there is no set release date.
“If there is a substantive comment that triggers that 30-day delay, we will do that and, if not, we will still use the time that we need to adequately review the responses and make sure that we make the edits that are appropriate before we publish the final draft,” Balow said.
A delay appears inevitable as several comments have accused Youngkin’s administration of breaking the law.
On Wednesday morning, the Virginia NAACP piled onto those allegations in a press conference unveiling their public comment. It alleges that the 2022 Model Policies promote discrimination and violate federal and state laws.
Supporters of Youngkin’s revisions contend that the previous model guidelines sanctioned the dividing of children against their parents and infringed on parental rights.
“Parents have not lost any rights that they have already had. We are saying the child’s rights are being impacted when they are forced to use a name that they don’t want to use. Their constitutional right does not stop at the schoolhouse gate,” Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr. said in a press conference.
Balow said the state law passed in 2020 gives VDOE and the state superintendent the authority to finalize the draft, without a vote from the state Board of Education.
Once the draft is finalized, the guidance document says local school boards must adopt policies that are consistent with or more comprehensive than the state standards. However, the draft guidance doesn’t set a deadline for when localities are expected to comply.
The 2020 law that paved the way for state guidance on transgender students said school boards had to update their policies to align with the old state standards by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Despite that language, many refused to make changes. A policy tracker published by the advocacy group “Equality Virginia” noted that more than half of students in the commonwealth attended school in divisions that had not fully adopted the 2021 standards, which had the support of LGBTQ+ advocates.
Leaders in localities like Richmond , Fairfax County and Alexandria have already said they will refuse to implement the revisions proposed by Youngkin’s administration.
Youngkin has said he expects school boards to comply but his administration has not identified a specific punishment or enforcement tool for those that refuse.