One of the big talking points for the Republican-endorsed candidates for school board this year is the charge that Fairfax County is engaged in a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between kids who identify as transgender and their parents. Many early voting locations now include a sign reading, “Never trust anyone who says, ‘Don’t tell your parents.’”
It’s a clever political catchphrase. But it is utterly incorrect.
Earlier this year, Fairfax County adopted Regulation 2603.2, “Gender-expansive and Transgender Students.” The regulation itself was a response to a 2020 Virginia law requiring the Department of Education to “develop and make available” model policies regarding the treatment of transgender students in schools. The law also required that “Each school board shall adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department of Education.”
In developing its own policies and regulations, FCPS did what it does best: it consulted experts. From experts in child development to legal authorities, the school division worked to create a policy that would, in the words of Superintendent Michelle Reid, foster “a safe, supportive, welcoming, and inclusive school environment for all students and staff, including our transgender and gender expansive students and staff.”
Parent involvement is integral to the policy. Section IV (E) states it most clearly: “Every effort shall be made to encourage and support communication between gender-expansive or transgender students and the student’s parents. Schools may offer to meet jointly with the parents and the student at school.”
Parent involvement is mentioned several other times throughout the regulation. FCPS clearly had read the research, which sums up several studies by noting: “Parental support is a protective factor for transgender and gender diverse youth.” The FCPS policy is research-based and built on the principle that students and their parents are the ones who should make decisions.
There is, however, one section of the regulation that deals with how schools can help students whose parents are not supportive. Section (B)(5) says, “School staff should provide information and referral to resources to support a student in coping with a lack of support at home and seek opportunities to foster a better relationship between the student and their family.”
That’s it. The language that’s being described as encouraging students not to tell their parents actually calls for the schools to “seek opportunities to foster a better relationship between the student and their family.”
It’s language that needs to be there. Because the reality is that for some small group of FCPS students, including some transgender students, parental support is not a reality. And that can lead to harsh consequences.
That’s a lesson I learned very early in my teaching career, when my classroom management skills were, to be honest, a little shaky. One day, a kid simply lost it in my class. His behavior ended up making it impossible for anyone to learn anything for the rest of the period.
After class, I told him, “You know I have to call your parents.” He looked dejected and asked if I really had to. I told him I did. That night, I spoke with his dad, who told me he would take care of it.
The next day, when the student walked into my classroom, he had a black eye and bruises on his face and arms. I asked him what happened and he said, “This is how my dad takes care of things.” Other kids in the class later said to me, “Ms. Amundson, we could have told you that.”
I’m sharing that story because it reflects a reality for some students in our schools. Some kids live with abusive parents and stepparents. It’s why laws now make teachers “mandated reporters” for child abuse. It’s why at least one School Resource Officer I knew went to court to testify in support of a high school girl whose stepfather was sexually abusing her.
And it’s why FCPS provides a way in Regulation 2603.2 to support students even when their parents do not. School policies simply acknowledge the reality that not every student is safe at home.
So why are the Republican endorsed candidates parroting this line? Most likely, the reason is politics. For a small number of infrequent voters (those who do not vote every year), even the word “transgender” triggers an increase in the likelihood to vote.
We saw the same thing in 2021, when political activist parents accused the schools in Loudoun County of teaching “CRT,” even though that wasn’t true. Later, exit polls showed that while the charge didn’t make much of an impact in Loudoun, it juiced turnout in the far southwest – mostly among older, Republican, voters.
So maybe these Republican-endorsed candidates (the ones who say they are “independent” when asked) are just taking one for the team.
But you don’t have to. Read the regulation yourself and you’ll see that FCPS, instead of working to divide parents and their kids, is trying to help students and families as they deal with a very challenging issue.
Kris Amundson is a former Board Chair of the Fairfax County School Board, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and the former CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education.