Say Their Pronouns: Virginia Parents Organize To Stop 'Misgendering' Rules at Public Schools

Students could be suspended for using wrong pronouns for classmates

A flyer for a rally to be held by Fairfax County parents on June 16, 2022.
June 14, 2022

Virginia parents are holding a rally on Thursday to oppose a Fairfax County School Board vote on proposed handbook changes that could suspend students as young as fourth grade for "malicious misgendering."

Fairfax County Public Schools would reserve the right to suspend for a week students who engage in "malicious deadnaming" or use slurs based on "gender identity," "gender expression," and "sexual orientation," according to a copy of its new Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook. Parents opposed to the measure will speak out against the handbook proposals in front of the elementary school where the school board will meet to vote on Thursday evening. Many say they are motivated by a desire to put their child's education first, rather than "gender politics."

The "school board is prioritizing these types of initiatives versus focusing on what parents would expect: recovering from learning loss, home/virtual schooling, and getting our kids back into the classroom, post-COVID," Jeff Hoffman, a Fairfax County father of three, told the Washington Free Beacon.

The vote is the latest political scuffle that has pitted parents against the heavy-handed tactics of public school officials. Led by teachers' unions and left-wing activist groups, school boards across the nation have implemented policies to encourage the expression of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, often without parental consent. The Free Beacon reported in March on a New Jersey public middle school that forced students to watch a video about hormone treatment, without notifying parents beforehand. Other parents told the Free Beacon their child "socially transitioned" to another gender at school without their knowledge.

The new handbook also represents the lasting influence of the 2020 Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, which expanded the definition of the Civil Rights Act's prohibition against sex discrimination to include "gender identity" and "sexual orientation." After assuming office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to the same effect, and Democratic governor Ralph Northam signed companion legislation in Virginia.

The initiative led to a model plan for transgender students put out by the Virginia Department of Education. Among other recommendations, the plan encouraged prohibiting discrimination, harassment, or bullying based on gender identity, as well as identifying students and maintaining their records in "compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws." The document cited the Civil Rights Act and Biden's executive order to explain its reasoning.

The school board had planned in May to vote on the handbook changes. It punted on that decision after a conservative legal group sent a letter to board members and the county chairman warning that the new student rules may be unconstitutional.

America First Legal senior adviser Ian Prior in a statement said the group will monitor whether the school approves the rules on Thursday.

"Fairfax County Public Schools' amendments increasing punishment for children as young as 8-years old for misgendering other students creates a completely subjective disciplinary regime that is vague, overbroad, and threatens the constitutional rights of students and parents," Prior said.

The Fairfax County School Board in July 2021 unanimously voted to approve changes to its 2021-22 handbook, which allowed students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity, be referred to by their preferred pronouns, and prevent the disclosure of their gender identity or sexual orientation if they so choose.

Fairfax County parents requested the school board host an in-person townhall on the proposed handbook before the vote, but none has been organized. They have also asked that the vote be delayed until a special report is commissioned to document every "gender-expansive" provision that has followed Virginia's model transgender student plan.

The rally will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church before the school board votes at 7 p.m.