While it is entirely appropriate to seek to provide a safe educational environment for all students, I have serious concerns about certain basic assumptions that stand behind the development of this guidance, as well as various logistical concerns.
1) The Model Polices document says that “Gender identity is an innate part of a person’s identity” (p.6) and that “Gender identity is considered an innate characteristic that most children declare by age five to six.” (p.8)
There is much evidence, however, that a significant number of children who adopt behaviors and identities associated with a different gender from their biological sex do in fact end up identifying with their biological sex by the conclusion of puberty. In the words of the DSM-5: “In natal [biological] males, persistence [of gender dysphoria] has ranged from 2.2% to 30%. In natal females, persistence has ranged from 12%-50%.” (America Psychiatric Association, “Gender Dysphoria” DSM-5, 455, quoted in Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” The New Atlantis, No. 56 Fall 2016, 106.) Although some children do explore a gender identity that differs from their biological sex during childhood (and this can be for a variety of reasons, including experiences of abuse and trauma) this very often changes by the time puberty is concluded, such that their sense of gender identity corresponds with their biological sex.
Also from Wikipedia: “According to prospective studies, the majority of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria cease to desire to be the other sex by puberty, with most growing up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, with or without therapeutic intervention.” (“Gender Dysphoria in Children,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_dysphoria_in_children, Date accessed February 2, 2021)
There are also studies indicating that social and peer dynamics might play a role in some teens, particularly girls, who adopt a trans identity during puberty. (Brown University, “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” Science Daily, 22 August 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180822150809.htm, Date accessed February 2, 2021)
While it is important to treat all children in schools with respect and to find practical ways to help them feel safe in their environment and with teachers and peers, this unexamined rush by adults to categorically affirm and “solidify” children’s and teen’s identity perceptions is enormously concerning and seems far more ideology-based than fact-based. Rather than science-based and “evidence-based best practices,” the contents of this document seem to rest on the adoption of many untested and unproven assumptions, which is a dangerous habit of mind that is not at all conducive to cultivating a “safe” learning environment for any child. Will children who come from homes in which gender is considered to have biological and ontological aspects and not simply a chosen, subjective construction be safe in this environment? Will children (or their parents) who are concerned about their privacy and who have a different point of view on these matters be respected? Will they face discipline for their views? Will they face stereotyping, stigma and discrimination? Are there compromises that can be found that can help students and adults with differing views work and learn together, or will implementation of policies like this become a one-sided, unilateral demand for compliance?
2) Another concern, as one who has worked in FCPS with special education and who had special education needs myself, it is very concerning how little evidence is required for a student to be considered “transgender” and be treated as such with accommodations (see 1st paragraph of Student Identification on p. 12). This is certainly not the way it works in order to qualify for recognition and accommodations in special education. What does this communicate to students with special education needs whose parents often have to provide extensive outside documentation and evidence in order for their children’s challenges to be recognized and to receive accommodations?
3) There are many other concerns with this document, but will conclude with a logistical concern. The section titled “Access to Facilities” says, “It can be emotionally harmful for a transgender student to be questioned regarding the use of restrooms and facilities. School staff should not confront students about their gender identity upon entry into the restroom” (p. 17). This appears to effectively mean that any student can enter any restroom at any time. Having worked in a middle school, I am aware of the potential for many problems and challenges with this lack of clarity in policy. Is it necessary to make bathrooms an unaccountable free-for-all considering the potential for abuse that a policy like this would open up? Is this safe for other students? Is this fair to teachers who do in fact have to deal with various inappropriate uses of bathrooms by students, but who would have vastly reduced authority to respond? Most of us have to go through the day at school or at work with some level of emotional frustration or distress over a variety of things. Does it help students who identify as transgender to communicate through policy that their emotional needs override the needs and considerations of all others? Surely there is a workable solution for bathrooms that maintains an appropriate level of safety and accountability for all involved that does not involve this level of vague open-endedness.
Dear public servants in the Virginia Department of Education, please consider slowing down and providing time for more community engagement and discussion. Please also do not assume or encourage the assumption that everyone who disagrees with the contents or various aspects of this document and its policies are culturally illiterate bigots or religiously intolerant. There are many very real and valid concerns that need to be brought to the table and carefully considered.