© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two Virginia Beach parents sue to force school district to adopt Youngkin’s policies on trans students

Kellam High student Rose Doucette helps write "Trans Lives Matter" in chalk in the parking lot outside of a Virginia Beach School Board meeting. (Photo by Ryan Murphy)
Kellam High student Rose Doucette helps write "Trans Lives Matter" in chalk in the parking lot outside of a Virginia Beach School Board meeting. (Photo by Ryan Murphy)

Two Virginia Beach mothers have filed a lawsuit to force Virginia Beach City Public Schools to adopt Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s controversial model policies on treatment of transgender students.

The lawsuit argues Virginia Beach is violating state law by voting in August not to adoptthe model policies, which went into effect this July.

“The Virginia Beach School Board has no authority to delay implementing policies consistent with the 2023 Virginia Department of Education model policies,” said Clark Hildebrand, an attorney from influential Washington, D.C. law firm Cooper & Kirk, who is representing the women.

“Even looking at the policies that they are proposing, they would still be inconsistent with the model policies.”

Cooper & Kirk has represented conservatives in many high-profile cases such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ legal battles with Disney and a recent Supreme Court case over gerrymandering in North Carolina.

According to the lawsuit filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court Thursday, Virginia Beach’s failure to adopt policies consistent with the state recommendations is “interfering with parents’ authority to control their children’s education and protect them in Virginia Beach public schools.”

The Virginia Beach School Board voted last month not to adopt the state’s new model policies, which include things like requiring students to use bathrooms that align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Instead, the board has slowly been picking its way through the model policies and discussing what local rules would need to change to comply.

Last week, for instance, the board adopted a policy requiring students under 18to get parental consent to be identified as transgender in school records. That policy is in line with the state model policies.

A s tate law adopted in 2020 saysthe school boards “shall adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department of Education.”

That was passed in an effort to force school districts to abide by the transgender policies put into place by the administration of previous Gov. Ralph Northam. Those instructed schools to use names selected by students and allow them to use bathrooms aligned with their preferred identity. 

The Virginia Mercury reports that only about 10% of school districts ever adopted Northam’s model policies, despite the 2020 law. In part, that’s because the law lacks effective enforcement mechanisms.

The new model policies from Youngkin’s administration seek to undo much of what Northam’s did. Parents are now using the 2020 law to force adherence to the more conservative model policies.

In Virginia Beach, the proposed changes have drawn intense protest, particularly from students who have spoken out at school board meetings for more than a year. They say the Youngkin proposals endanger the health and wellbeing of queer students.

Youngkin was elected in 2021 in large part by galvanizing suburban voters over concerns about what was going on in schools across the state.

His first act as governor was to ban “inherently divisive concepts” from Virginia classrooms like Critical Race Theory, a framework for understanding systemic racism and privilege that has not been used widely in Virginia schools.

Youngkin's tenure has since been marked by more controversial school policy issues, including the creation of a tip line to report teachers for discussing those concepts and the long-delayed and much-protested model policies for handling of transgender students.

NOTE: Virginia Beach City Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.