RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The new transgender student policy from the administration of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) drew nearly 15,000 comments from the public in a day, with more pouring in every minute.
The 30-day public comment window for the new model guidelines opened Monday and as of 10 a.m. on Sept. 28 already has almost 28,000 responses. A review of the comments shows a vast majority share opposition to the new model policies.
In the first 24 hours, 14,883 comments were submitted to the Virginia Department of Education. There were 23,852 responses in the first two days. At the current rate, the system is expected to receive over 350,000 responses.
All of Virginia’s 133 school districts must adopt a version of the model policies put forward by the administration at the end of the comment period if State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow approves the guidelines.
A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to an email Tuesday asking who would be reviewing the public comments, but Balow told 8News’ Jackie DeFusco that the expectation is for the policies to be adopted in some form.
“Once they’re finalized, whether they look exactly like they do now, have a few changes, or have lots of changes, the expectation, and the law is that they will be adopted,” Balow said Tuesday.
The release of the guidelines sparked questions over whether the Youngkin administration can enforce the model policies and survive potential legal challenges.
The guidelines — the “Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” — will require transgender students to use school bathrooms that align with the sex they were assigned at birth “except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires,” citing the Grimm v. Gloucester case.
In the Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case, a federal appeals court found that the school board violated the constitutional rights of a transgender student by banning him from using the boy’s bathroom.
“Trans students who are worried about not being able to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity can still use the bathroom that they want regardless of this order,” University of Richmond Law Professor Jack Preis told 8News’ Jackie DeFusco. “This order specifically recognizes that they have rights under federal law and it does not attempt to change any of those rights under federal law, nor could it do so even if it wanted to.”
The policies also say that school personnel will refer to students using the pronouns “appropriate to the sex” appearing on their official records, and changes to those records can only come after a legal document is provided to, and accepted by, the school division.
The model guidelines will also require parents to be “fully informed” on school matters they consider important and says school staff can use pronouns that conform to a student’s gender identity if an eligible student — 18 years old or over or someone under 18 who is emancipated — or a guardian has submitted a notice to the division.
But school personnel will not be required to address or refer to a student “in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights” under the policy.
On the topic of athletics, the guidance says, “any athletic program or activity that is separated by sex, the appropriate participation of students shall be determined by sex.” A school district can provide “reasonable modifications,” but only to the extent required by federal law.
Youngkin’s proposed rollback comes after state lawmakers passed a law in 2020 to establish the Department of Education’s current guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students in public schools.
Under the 2020 law, school boards in Virginia were required to adopt rules “that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than” the model guidance from VDOE by the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The current model guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education call for students to be allowed to use pronouns, school bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity. They also state that schools should “not disclose a student’s gender identity to other students or parents.”
Despite the state law, data shows that few school districts have fully embraced the department’s model policies.
The 30-day comment period closes at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 26. You can submit a comment and review ones already put forward here.