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Youngkin criticizes Virginia school districts that won't adopt his transgender policies in Fox News interview

The Republican governor's model policies require students to use their sex for bathrooms and school activities as opposed to gender identity.

NORFOLK, Va. — During a Fox News interview Monday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin criticized school districts that won't adopt his administration's controversial new policies for transgender students, arguing that "it is the law and they don't have a choice."

The Republican governor weighed in on Fox News' "The Story with Martha MacCallum" in response to several Virginia school districts that are considering or have opted against adopting the 2023 policies, which were first proposed in September 2022 and finalized in July.

"It's the law and the law is very clear that I issue model policies and local school districts have to adopt policies consistent with the model policies," Youngkin told MacCallum.

The policies require students to use their assigned sex for bathrooms and school activities; written instruction from parents for a student to use names or gender pronouns that differ from the student's official record; and school divisions to disclose information about a student's gender to their parents, except when laws prohibiting the disclosure of information to parents apply.

RELATED: Virginia Dept. of Education faces backlash over new transgender policies

The process stems from a Virginia law signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in 2020, which requires the Virginia Department of Education to develop model policies for transgender students, which school divisions can either adopt consistent with or more comprehensive than the model. The law outlines that the policies should ensure compliance with nondiscrimination laws, maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment, and prevention of bullying and harassment.

In Northern Virginia, Prince William County Public Schools announced Thursday it would continue to adhere to its own policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, arguing that denying a transgender student the right to access school programs and facilities violates Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.

Other districts in Northern Virginia — Fairfax County and Arlington — have cited that their old policies adequately protect transgender students while being in compliance with the law. Richmond Public Schools also rejected the new model policies, saying it will maintain its current policies on transgender students.

The Virginia Beach School Board considered adopting Youngkin's policies, but a Tuesday night vote to do so failed 5-5. Suffolk is also looking into adopting the policies. Spotsylvania and Pittsylvania counties have each adopted versions of Youngkin's model policies.

RELATED: Virginia Beach School Board fails to pass resolution to adopt new transgender student policies

During the Fox News interview, Youngkin didn't specify how his administration would enforce Virginia school districts adopting his model policies but stated "these school districts will in fact comply with the law." 13News Now reached out to the offices of Youngkin and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares for comment.

A spokesperson for Miyares replied Tuesday by saying, "The Attorney General expects the school boards to follow the law."

On Thursday, Miyares announced he issued a legal opinion at the request of Youngkin, stating his belief that the model policies don't violate the U.S. Constitution, Title IX, and the Virginia Human Rights Act.

In this opinion, Miyares wrote that school boards are required to adopt policies consistent with the model policies, but they can't conflict with "other applicable federal and state law." He examined the relevant laws and explained why he thinks the model policies don't conflict, touching upon student identification, athletics, and bathrooms.

Despite this, Miyares didn't outline how Virginia's law on the matter could be enforced on local school boards but stated they "must" adopt them.

In a statement alongside the opinion, Miyares echoed Youngkin's position by saying "Parents, not government, are in the best position to work with their children on important life decisions, and no parent signs up to co-parent with the government."

"The Model Policies ensure that all students are treated with dignity and that parental involvement remains at the center," Miyares said. "These policies are fully compliant with the law, and school boards across the Commonwealth should support and implement them. It's not just common sense, it's the law."

Equality Virginia, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, criticized Miyares' opinion as defending "bad policy," calling it "non-binding."

"Now, Attorney General Jason Miyares, through a non-binding opinion, is advising school districts to comply with model policies that are out of compliance with state and federal law and out of step with Virginia’s values,” Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, wrote in a news release.

She continued: “Instead of addressing the very real issues we have ahead of us, Governor Youngkin and his administration continue to push a culture war, removing resources for teachers, ignoring the rights of parents in Virginia and doubling down on it with a non-enforceable opinion from the attorney general."

13News Now also reached out to the Democratic Party of Virginia for comment but didn't get an immediate statement.

Youngkin's model policies have drawn criticism, support

Since the Youngkin administration put forth the new policies last year, several LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and the Virginia Education Association (VEA) have pushed back.

In a statement last month, VEA President Dr. James Fedderman blasted Youngkin's policies for "the intentional targeting of LGBTQ+ students" as "an outrageous affront to decency."

"All school boards and superintendents should remember that no schools are required to implement this administration-crafted policy and should think twice before considering this politically divisive debate and exposing themselves to extensive legal liability," Fedderman wrote.

Equality Virginia also criticized the policies last month as a "dangerous, politically motivated decision."

"All students in Virginia deserve an education that allows them to learn and grow free from harm; transgender and non-binary students must be afforded the equal opportunity to learn in a safe and affirming school environment," Rahaman wrote in July. "These new model policies do not provide our students with this opportunity and would instead create learning environments that are unsafe, hostile and dangerous."

Youngkin has defended his policies as "common sense," arguing in the Fox News interview that they promote parental involvement in their children's lives.

"The kids don't belong to the state, they belong to parents and to families," Youngkin said. "They have the ultimate say in decisions that that child is going to make with a parent, not with a bureaucrat."

In July, Dr. Todd Gathje with the Family Foundation wrote: "We are thankful Governor Youngkin reaffirmed his commitment to provide better guidance to Virginia school boards about transgender issues that is more in alignment with statutory provisions and legal precedence affirming parental rights."

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