Virginia Department of Education to examine treatment of transgender students in schools
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Virginia is set to take a look at the experience of transgender students across the commonwealth.
Senate Bill 161 passed the House of Delegates on Thursday by a 58 to 40 vote, and will now go before Governor Ralph Northam to sign. The bill directs Virginia’s Department of Education to create model policies regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools, from student identification by chosen name and pronouns to maintaining a harassment-free learning environment. The policies will then be provided to school boards across the state to model their own policies after.
“This bill would ensure that transgender students had, you know, some clear policies for how they should be treated in schools," Ted Lewis, executive director of transgender youth support organization Side by Side, said. “On the other hand, school superintendents, school boards, and principals would have guidance from the Department of Education on exactly how they can best support their transgender students.”
Transgender advocates say that the bill provides much needed clarity, for both transgender students and teachers unsure of how they should act in certain situations, like when a trans student is being harassed.
“Teachers aren’t supposed to have a political position," Charlottesville parent Bekah Saxton said. "They don’t know how to intervene appropriately, even though they know in their heart what they want to do.”
Proper pronoun and name usage for trans students is one of the biggest changes advocates hope to see out of these policies.
“A 2018 study done out of Austin, Texas, found that consistently using a transgender students chosen name decreases suicide attempts by 65%," Lewis explained. "So we know that using the name that the child uses actually saves lives, and also is just pure respect.”
Chosen name and pronoun usage is something Charlottesville-area schools say they’re already being proactive in doing.
“We believe it’s really important for students to be called by their name and by their by their pronoun that they identify," Charlottesville High School counselor Sarah Elaine Hart said. "We’re trying to do a lot to be strong advocates and allies for trans youth here Charlottesville High School and also in the city in general.”
The model policies are set to be completed by the end of this year, so that schools boards across the state have the opportunity to update their policies by the 2021-2022 school year.
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