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Will school divisions follow Youngkin administration's transgender student policies?

Glenn Youngkin
Steve Helber
FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin works in the old Governor's office at the Capitol Wednesday March 2, 2022, in Richmond, Va

Schools across Virginia may be about to take another look at policies regarding transgender students.

Under guidelines adopted by former Governor Ralph Northam’s administration, teachers in Virginia public schools were expected to use the pronouns students ask for based on the gender they identify with. Now, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin is recommending guidelines that say the opposite – allowing teachers to misgender students.

Todd Gathje at the Family Foundation says the new guidelines respect the rights of teachers.

"What we really need to make sure that we’re putting in place and respecting the constitutional rights and free speech rights of everyone, of all students and teachers and faculty; to make sure they're not compelled to say something," Gathje says.

Youngkin’s guidelines also change rules about bathrooms, locker rooms, sports participation and parental notification. But will school systems adopt these controversial new guidelines?

Former Education Secretary Atif Qarni says they don't have to.

"These are guidelines, so the policies at the beginning do say that school divisions must adopt it," Qarni says. "Having said that, ultimately it's the school division's authority whether they want to adopt and implement these policies. So legally, the governor can't do anything to force them."

Take the previous guidelines as an example. According to Equality Virginia, only 13 school divisions fully adopted Northam's guidelines. Most school divisions kept their existing policies, and nine school boards voted to reject Northam's policies.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.