Virginia's Department of Education under Gov. Glenn Youngkin released a directive telling all school districts to stop allowing students to identify as the opposite sex without legal documents and to keep parents informed about their child's "psychological development."
The directive announced Friday orders all 133 Virginia public school districts to no longer allow students to enter opposite-sex bathrooms and other private spaces. Similarly, students who want to be referred to by their chosen pronouns must file legal documents.
In addition, the directive says that schools must "keep parents fully informed about all matters" related to a child's health and social and psychological development," and they must not conceal information related to the child's gender from parents.
The document also states that school staff is not required to address a student "in any manner" that contradicts their religious beliefs.
Youngkin's guidelines reverse the directive enacted under the previous governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, which called for allowing trans-identifying students to use opposite-sex pronouns without documentation.
Nicole Neily, founder and president of the national parental rights activist organization Parents Defending Education, said in an interview with The Christian Post that other states should follow Youngkin's lead.
"The kinds of ideas and the kinds of policies that have been pushed in schools across the country, when parents know what's going on, they're appalled by those, and rightly so," Neily said.
"Because right now, the default setting in far too many school districts is let's keep secrets from mom and dad."
"The fact that Gov. Youngkin has put parental rights first and foremost is something that shouldn't be revolutionary, but sadly, in 2022, it is," she added.
The ACLU of Virginia criticized the Youngkin administration's policy, claiming in a Saturday tweet that the directive will worsen suicide and self-harm rates in LGBT students.
"We are appalled by the Youngkin administration's overhaul of key protections for transgender students in public schools," the ACLU wrote.
Neily argues that schools already serve as mandatory reporters, requiring teachers and staff to intervene if they feel a child is in an unsafe environment.
"For them to now pretend that the default setting is all families are unsafe is really throwing the baby out with the bathwater because there are already provisions in place," she said.
Neily claimed that the Northam administration's policies made schools assume that families were unsafe and that school was the only place of safety for kids.
"Unfortunately, these policies are in schools across the country, coast to coast," Neily said.
While many districts in conservative areas of the state will likely comply with Youngkin's order, The Washington Post reports that there is talk of a lawsuit coming from northern Virginia districts in the liberal suburban Washington counties. Critics contend that the order violates the Virginia Human Rights Act, which was expanded in 2020 to bar discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations.
Since Parents Defending Education's founding in March, the organization has received 50 to 200 tips from across the country. Most of the tips received this year have been about policies related to gender identity in schools.
Parents have concerns about fairness regarding female athletes losing awards or scholarships due to being forced to compete against biological males, according to Neily. In addition, parents are worried about girls having to share a bathroom or locker room with boys identifying as the opposite sex.
Neily pointed to a federal lawsuit that the ACLU filed in August in the Northeastern District of Iowa Cedar Rapids Division after the Linn-Mar Community School District instituted a gender-neutral bathroom and locker policy. She claims that many girls were afraid to use the restroom or change for gym class as a result, something she feels highlights many parents' concerns regarding such policies.
"They worry about the privacy of these spaces," she said, stating that Gov. Youngkin is leading with "parental rights."
"People want to know what is going on in their child's life so they can make informed decisions," the Parents Defending Education founder said. "'Maybe I won't send my child on the field trip; I want to know if my child is being referred to by a different name.'"
"If the child is leading, for all intents and purposes, a double life in school — they're going by one name and one pronoun at home and another at school — what kind of mental turmoil does that cause for adolescents?" she asked.
Last November, Youngkin defeated his Democratic challenger, Terry McAuliffe, in the Virginia gubernatorial race, an election that took place amid national debates surrounding parental involvement in education.
During a debate, McAuliffe argued against parents telling schools what to teach. Meanwhile, Youngkin propped himself up as an advocate for parental involvement in education.
Around this time, two schools in Loudon County, Virginia, attracted controversy amid reports of two sexual assaults committed at two separate high schools by the same male student. In one instance, the student wore a skirt in a girls' bathroom.
The incidents reportedly occurred before Loudoun County officials implemented a policy allowing trans-identifying students to enter opposite-sex bathrooms and other single-sex spaces.
Last July, Fairfax County adopted a policy permitting trans-identifying students to enter any bathroom or single-sex space they wanted, which many parents protested. Another policy required school newspapers, yearbooks and other official student lists to refer to students as their chosen pronouns, according to The Washington Post.