VDOE’s new model policies trigger protest from LGBTQIA+ groups, supporters


Photo used with permission of Alexandra Smith

A student waves a pride flag through the air during the walkout on Sept. 27 in protest against the state’s new model policies.

Rachel Neathery, Haley Oeur, and Sixuan Wu

A colorful sea of signs, folders and pride flags wave through the air as students gather in front of the school on Sept. 27 in protest of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his administration’s 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools.

The new model policies, released on Sept. 16 by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), have created controversy due to their emphasis of parental decision over student decision regarding the treatment of transgender students. If approved by the Virginia Board of Education, the state will expect all school districts to adopt said policies and stop following every aspect of last year’s policies.

“I was really confused on why [Youngkin] would want to control part of someone’s identity; it’s not hurting anyone,” walkout organizer sophomore Lily Payne said.

The guiding principles of the policies state that if students would like to use a different name or pronouns than the one on their official record, their parent or guardian must express in writing that they’d like their child to be identified that way. The policies also instruct that teachers and administrators should refer to students using the pronouns of their biological sex if they do not have parental consent.

“It will be extremely hard for [students who aren’t out to their parents] to do anything that makes them feel comfortable and have a safe place at school, which is what school should be especially if you don’t have a safe space at home,” sophomore Mary Clare Pelczynski said.

Students take turns giving speeches at the walkout on Sept. 27. (Haley Oeur)

The document also states for gender-specific locations, students must use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex “except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.” Sports and extracurriculars separated by sex will also be separated this way.

“I do think that people should use the bathroom, sports locker room or join the sports team of what makes them feel the most comfortable,” Payne said. “But I do realize that is always going to be a fight that’s going to be controversial.”

Thousands of students across Virginia initiated organized walkouts in protest of the policies. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, a student protest at CHS was organized with the Pride Liberation Project, joining more than 100 schools across the state that held walkouts throughout the day to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights against the draft VDOE policies.

“If you can’t [advocate] for your own safety, I get that,” Payne said. “But I think the more people who come out and [say], ‘hey, this is who I am,’ the more people will see that and then get their own confidence.”

I think the more people who come out and [say], ‘hey, this is who I am,’ the more people will see that and then get their own confidence.

— sophomore Lily Payne

A sample policy has been provided in the document for local school boards to consider. Currently, the model policies contradict Regulation 2603 of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), which supports the rights of gender-expansive and transgender students. 

In her message to FCPS families, Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid stated on Sept. 18 that FCPS will be thoroughly reviewing the policies and will share a more detailed response soon. She also promised that FCPS will continue to provide safe and respectful learning spaces to all students and staff.

“Here at Fairfax County Public Schools, we are dedicated to providing a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member and family is welcomed, respected, valued and supported, as they experience a deep sense of belonging,” Reid said in the message.

A chant of “trans rights are human rights” fills the air as students walk along Stringfellow Road. (Haley Oeur)

Several board members have also promised on social media that FCPS will continue to support LGBTQIA+ students. On Oct. 6, a statement was released after the board meeting stating that FCPS is committed to following the Virginia Human Rights Act, Title IX’s prohibition on gender identity discrimination while partnering with parents and guardians.

The new policies are currently open for a 30-day public comment period that will end on Oct. 26. Comments are accepted through Virginia’s regulatory town hall. As of 5:23 p.m on Oct. 4, 55,945 comments had been received.

“I could definitely see this going two ways,” freshman Amity Lynch said. “Either we find a better solution to this where we get the parents involved [while] keeping students safe and making sure they have their own opinions, or just strip all of that away.”