Virginia's largest school district reviews rule suspending students for 'deadnaming'

Students sit in a high school classroom.
Students sit in a high school classroom. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

The largest school district in Virginia is reviewing an updated handbook that includes suspension as a potential punishment for students who "maliciously" misgender their peers who identify as the opposite sex. 

Earlier this month, Fairfax County Public School Board conducted its annual review of Regulation 2601: Students' Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R), a student handbook forbidding "slurs based upon the actual or perceived gender identity" of a person.  

The document allows for a five-day suspension for "malicious deadnaming," which is defined as referring to someone by their previously known name, often their name given at birth, rather than their "chosen name," and "malicious misgendering."

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The two acts were considered "Level 4" offenses, meaning they could be dealt with using targeted, individualized interventions and customarily result in school-based disciplinary action. The principal may refer the situation to the superintendent, resulting in varied responses based on "circumstances and rarely results in an expulsion."

The school board will vote on the handbook later this month. 

"Please note that this language is not new. It was introduced to the SR&R last year," an FCPS spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Christian Post on Tuesday.

"The language in the SR&R relates to the purposeful and deliberate misgendering of a student aimed at causing harm. Currently, this applies to secondary-level students only."

While last year's SR&R listed suspension as a potential punishment for students who deliberately misgender their classmates, the latest handbook added that suspension in such cases is possible "if frequency and intensity are present."

It also updated the language for the rules regarding hate speech to include "outing related to gender identification and immigration status."

Meg Kilgannon, a senior fellow for education studies with the Christian conservative advocacy group, the Family Research Council, told CP that the case in Fairfax is "important because it shows how incredibly out of touch the education establishment is, even after COVID."

"Regardless of a recent election in Virginia that hinged on parental rights … suburban school boards will pursue this dangerous and unconstitutional gender agenda, even for young children. It's astounding," Kilgannon said on Tuesday. 

In an op-ed, FRC Media Coordinator Joshua Arnold contends there are "glaring problems" with the school board's proposed rule. 

"The first is the use of the words 'deadnaming' and 'misgendering.' These words carry no meaning to a normal, sane person who hasn't imbibed the transgender Kool-Aid," Arnold wrote.

"They describe using someone's given name and biological pronouns, respectively, when that person identifies with a name and pronouns of the opposite sex. They're mostly used as shorthand smears to apply sinister connotations to innocent behavior."

Arnold further states that the policy calls the use of a person's given name and biological pronouns "slurs" equal in severity to slurs based on a person's race, religion or disability. 

"Fairfax County wrongly assumes malicious intent in using the 'wrong' name or pronoun. They presume that transgender affirmation is the only moral option," Arnold wrote. "They rule out the possibility that someone could have good motives for behaving otherwise, such as a commitment to absolute truth, concern over someone's eternal soul, or seeking their present happiness (as distinct from accommodating their present feelings)."

Arnold believes the school district assumes "Christians are acting maliciously."

"After all, every American so far who has gotten in trouble for using the wrong pronouns has been a Christian deeply committed to the Bible's teaching," Arnold wrote. "In fact, the terms of this provision target Christians so precisely, it seems as if they were intentionally designed with them in mind."

Last November, Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race, winning 50.68% of the vote to McAuliffe's 48.55%.

The race took place amid national debates surrounding how much influence parents should have on the public school curriculum. McAuliffe garnered controversy when he said during a debate that "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

Youngkin championed himself as an advocate for parental involvement in education. As governor, he set up a tip line for parents to report teachers they think are "divisive."

Last year, two schools in Loudon County, Virginia, faced scrutiny due to reports of two sexual assaults committed at two different high schools by the same male student, one of which occurred in a girls' bathroom while he was wearing a skirt.

The incidents reportedly took place before Loudon officials implemented a bathroom policy allowing trans-identifying students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Last July, parents protested against Fairfax County adopting policies that allow trans-identifying students to use the restroom aligned with their preferred gender identity.

The policies also required that official lists of students, including in yearbooks and newspapers, refer to them by their chosen pronouns, according to The Washington Post.

A top official with the Virginia Parent Teacher Association was forced to resign after saying "let them die" at a rally held by parents opposed to gender identity-related policies and other proposals.

Michelle Leete, the vice president of training for the Virginia PTA, later clarified that she wanted right-wing ideas to die, not the parents. 

The Virginia PTA still requested her resignation, however, stating that it did not "condone [Leete's] choice of words" and it "upholds values of respect, collaboration, and accountability." 

The group Fairfax County Parents Association denounced Leete's rhetoric as "deeply disappointing" and tweeted that it "evinces a deep lack of concern for children & parents, particularly where the wellbeing of children & families clash with political considerations."  

"There is so much work to be done to help children, particularly from the harm done by the [school board's] decisions this year," the parental rights group added.

"We had hoped to work with many of these [community] leaders to get that done but have been rejected at every turn. No matter, we will continue to fight for the kids."

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