Transgender Student Policy Public Comment Guide
House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161, passed into law in 2020, codify protections for transgender and non-binary students in Virginia public schools. The bills instruct the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to draft model policies on the treatment of transgender (trans) and non-binary youth in schools by the end of 2020. School Boards then have until the start of the 2021-2022 school year to adopt policies consistent with, or even more comprehensive than, the VDOE model policy. This guide is intended to help you navigate the public comment process from start to finish. For more information about the law and supporting trans students, navigate to our FAQ Guide on Advocating for Trans Students.
How do I make a public comment in support of the the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) model policies?
The VDOE released proposed model policies that will be available for public comments from January 4, 2021 through February 3, 2021. You can click here to read the proposed guidance, which Equality Virginia and partner organizations support.
Please leave a comment online following these steps:
- Navigate to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall Page
- Click on the “Enter a comment” bullet point
- Type your first and last name, and the name of an organization you work with (if applicable)
- Indicate the state where you currently live
- Provide a current email address
- In the “Comment subject/title” section please write: Support
- Write your comment! Remember: all information that you submit through the comment forum will be public.
- Don’t forget to hit submit on the bottom left corner once you have written your message.
If you prefer to submit a public comment anonymously for the safety of you and your loved ones, our sibling organization, Side by Side, has a form that will be collecting anonymous comments.
You can also check out GLSEN’s public comment guide to support trans student policies.
What should I write in my public comment?
If you feel overwhelmed or too busy to write something personal, you can simply say “I support the guidance.” Even that helps to show the VDOE the number of people who support the guidance.
The most powerful form of public comment is personal testimony, which can be just a few sentences! We know it can be difficult to know what to say so we have provided some prompting questions and sample public comments for anyone who wants to support trans and non-binary youth:
Parents, caregivers, and adult family members:
- What has been your child’s experience at their school around being LGBTQ+ or their friends who might be LGBTQ+?
- What would it mean to your family if schools had safe and inclusive environments for all youth?
- How would it help your young person or their friends at school and in their daily life?
Sample public comment: My son has several gay friends and a classmate who is a transgender girl. We’re Christians and taught him to love everyone so he fully supports them. Sadly, he has seen the struggles they go through with name-calling and even blatant disrespect from a school administrator. I know that if my son were struggling with these issues, I would do everything I could to make sure he has the same safe education as everyone else. I support this guidance because I want my son and all of his friends to be in a school environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone.
LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ adults, allied youth and siblings:
- What has been your experience at school around being LGBTQ+ or having LGBTQ+ peers?
- What would it mean to you if Virginia schools had safe and inclusive environments for all youth?
- How would it help you or your peers at school and in their daily life?
Sample public comment: I am a student in Albemarle County Public Schools and a member of my school’s GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance). I have been bullied since I came out as non-binary in middle school, but luckily most of my teachers support me and I often eat lunch with them to avoid confrontations with other students in the cafeteria. I support this guidance because I would feel so much safer knowing my school is supporting me so I don’t have to hide or live in fear. I want to get through the day just focusing on classes and graduation!
Educators, Administrators, and School Personnel:
- In what ways would you and your coworkers feel more prepared by having guidance on how to better serve all youth, particularly transgender and non-binary youth?
- Why is this personally impactful to you and your coworkers?
- How would the guidance set students up for success?
Sample public comment: I’ve been a teacher for 14 years, and I’m proud to support this guidance. My high school is in a progressive area, but most of my colleagues haven’t dealt with a transgender student until this past year when two students came out as transgender boys. We wanted to do everything right for them, but it was a learning process while we reached out for information on how to support them. I know it was tough for the two students to have their role models at school not knowing how to treat them with the full respect they deserve. This guidance would allow all schools to be equipped with the policies and procedures they need to confidently provide a safe and inclusive educational experience for all students, especially our LGBT youth.
- What would it mean to you and your city/county if all Virginia schools had safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ youth?
- How might it help your friends, loved ones, and other community members?
- Why is this important to you as an ally?
Sample public comment: As a Christian and an uncle, I’m honored to support this guidance. My nieces have friends who are transgender, and they’re always welcome at my house! I’ve heard about some of the difficulties they face with unsupportive parents at home and bullying at school. If it weren’t were for their friends, I’m not sure where they’d be. We can’t change their home life, but we can make sure they are safe and welcomed at their school. I want every child made in God’s image to have the same chance at a happy and successful life, and that starts with their education!
What happens once the VDOE model policies are finalized after the public comment period?
Once the VDOE releases the final draft of the model policies by Spring 2021, all 133 school boards in Virginia will have to consider and vote to adopt policies consistent with, if not more comprehensive than, the VDOE model policies before the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
What new protections do transgender and non-binary youth have in schools?
School districts’ model policies must cover the following areas that schools will address:
- Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws;
- Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students;
- Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment;
- Maintenance of student records;
- Identification of students;
- Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information;
- Enforcement of sex-based dress codes; and
- Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. Activities and events do not include athletics.
You can read the ‘platinum standard’ policy recommendations put forward by Virginia-based groups in June 2020, including Equality Virginia, Side by Side, and many partner organizations. You can also read the VDOE’s proposal of the model policies put forth for the public comment period. GLSEN and the National Center for Transgender Equality have also published an updated model local policy on transgender and nonbinary students that can help inform local policies.
In addition, the Virginia Values Act bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in places of public accommodation, which includes educational institutions like public schools. This means that schools must offer a safe and equal learning environment to all students, teachers, and staff, including those who are LGBTQ.
These policies will allow trans and non-binary youth to be safer from bulllying, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of their peers, teachers, and school staff and administrators. It will also guarantee that supports are in place to allow all youth, including trans and non-binary youth, to have acess to an equal educational experience. For additional reference on student nondiscrimination protections and inclusion in equity plans see GLSEN’s recommendations here.
Do these protections cover athletics?
This legislation does not cover transgender and non-binary students’ participation in athletics. Instead, this is governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL), which allows transgender youth to play on teams consistent with their gender identity through a waiver process requiring certain documentation and hearings. Many middle schools follow VHSL guidelines.
Navigate here for more information about Equality Virginia’s work to creative inclusive schools for LGBTQ Youth.