by James C. Sherlock
Virginia’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools is a bigger mess the more I study it.
It is as far as I can tell unprecedented in scope. I checked parallel California, D.C. and Arlington County policies. None of them comes close to the dangerous nonsense in Virginia’s new Model Policies.
Even if we ignore the legal, medical, ethical and parental rights issues, which we won’t, Model Policies will prove untenable in any school that tries to comply.
We absolutely need to make transgender students feel safe at school and not discriminate against them in any way. Arlington County has done it well in my view. But the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) (Department) new regulation fails every test of professionalism and common sense with its attempt to address those needs.
Be assured however that Model Policies meets key tests of radical progressivism.
- Its prescriptions challenge the tenets of every major religion and the ethics of people who care about ethics;
- It is unsupported by evidence or common sense, uncaring of consequences, unachievable by sentient adults; and
- It is mandatory.
I offer a bill of particulars.
- Model Policies requires schools to go down that road with neither a professional diagnosis of the child nor parental participation, much less consent. It does not require the child’s self-identification to be confirmed by licensed clinical psychologists, physicians or the child’s parents.
- It requires schools to provide what amounts to reverse conversion therapy in “affirming” the social transition of children as young as kindergarteners who self-identify as transsexual and to shield those actions from the view of the parents.
- The Department purposely ignores scientific evidence to create substantial and well documented long-term emotional risks to young children self-identifying as transgender without medical support.
- It ignores the complexities and differences in dealing with prepubescent and adolescent students. Model Policies makes no reference to the age of a self-identifying child other than to cite a single sentence that “gender identity is considered an innate characteristic that most children declare by age five to six”. (Lamb & Lerner, 2015). Later you will read what Lerner later wrote about profoundly different age-specific approaches to help transgender-identifying children. Model Policies makes no mention of that issue.
- Model Policies offers no concession to religious beliefs or the rights of parents. Indeed it threatens parents and school employees directly if they are not supportive.
- It requires school personnel to exceed their professional licenses and to act against their own ethics and religious beliefs. “Students and staff each have their own unique religious and personal experiences, views, and opinions.” None of those are welcome under the regulation.
- “Engaging students and parents will be critical in developing policies and procedures relating to student privacy and addressing situations where parents are not affirming their child’s gender identity.” Let’s unpack that sentence. Two things jump out – Model Policies considers a gender identity self-assessed by a six year old child to be a “student privacy” issue; and addressing “situations” where parents are not “affirming” is now the duty of school personnel.
- Code of Virginia § 22.1-23.3 directed that: “The Department of Education shall develop and make available to each school board model policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools that address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices…” But the Department rejected the requirement that “evidence-based best practices” be the basis of the policies by ignoring such evidence. Model Policies offers Arlington County’s transgender student policy as one of the “Model and Existing Policies and Guidelines.” The authors of Model Policies could not have read it. The Arlington policy is sane and therefore utterly non-compliant with Model Policies. The authors clearly didn’t read the District of Columbia’s 2015 policy either. That policy provides “developmentally appropriate protocols” which distinguish among age groups. Model Policies instead appears to be taken primarily from Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Students produced by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
- In writing the regulations, the Department consulted 34 citizens, not one of them a clinical psychologist or physician. Further, Model Policies is so selective in its references to professional standards as to surrender any presumption of objectivity or an honest effort to fairly represent them.
- No school system of which I am aware employs either physicians or clinical psychologists in its schools. School nurses, school psychologist and social workers are neither educated, trained nor licensed to make a diagnosis of child transsexuality. Yet they are required by Model Policies to act on such assessments made by children themselves.
I have requested the Virginia Board of Psychology review and comment upon these issues, including the limits of the licenses of school psychologists, to the Board of Education.
If it survives currently active legal challenges, Model Policies will ensure school boards and schools will be subject to parental and staff resistance and lawsuits.
In sum, Model Policies represents official malfeasance in pursuit of a political agenda.
I recommend the Department of Education withdraw Model Policies and start over.
Below I offer evidence to support my assessments and recommendations for those who want to see the details. Sorry about the length, but it is necessary to make the case that the 26-page Model Policies ignored.
Evidence-based best practices ignored
The authors failed to note that Richard Lerner, one of authors of the statement “gender identity is considered an innate characteristic that most children declare by age five to six” wrote two years later:
“In adolescence, the individual has the cognitive, behavioral, and social relational skills to contribute actively and often effectively to his or her own developmental changes. In contrast to earlier developmental periods, adolescents have a burgeoning capacity for self-governance, for formulating and taking actions that exert at least some control over their own development.”
The failure to reference the age of children in Model Policies disqualifies that regulation as a serious or valid attempt to set policy.
In another damning example, Model Policies cites:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (2018) also acknowledged that,“variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity.””
Interesting, but hardly definitive of the AAP view and the Department of Education had reason to know it. The AAP published a treatise in December of 2018 that illustrates the complexities involved.
“Medical and psychosocial care designed to affirm individuals’ gender identities has been demonstrated to mitigate many of the negative effects of gender dysphoria, or the distress that frequently accompanies a discrepancy between one’s assigned gender at birth and one’s gender identity. Such care appears to satisfy the principles of beneficence (the obligation to provide benefit to patients) and non-maleficence (the avoidance of unnecessary harm). Indeed, emerging evidence suggests that a lack of access to appropriate gender-affirming care may lead to (transgender and gender non-conforming) TGNC youth being at greater risk of harm, including violence, sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV), depression, anxiety, and suicide. Moreover, TGNC individuals are subject to profound and pervasive social stigma, which likely contributes to poor psychosocial functioning and the adverse psychological outcomes experienced by those who are unable to access gender-affirming care.
“At the same time, because of its relative novelty and a lack of research into practices and outcomes, gender-affirming care raises risks that have yet to be fully understood and evaluated. This has implications for autonomy (a comprehensive understanding of all risks and benefits and the ability to decide freely) because patients and families sometimes must make decisions based on limited or low-quality information.”
“Many of the above-mentioned risks of harm to TGNC children and adolescents may be mitigated to a great extent by the provision of health care that is designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender. Yet, gender-affirming treatment options carry their own risks, many of which are at best tenuously understood, with important implications for medical decision-making among providers, patients, and families.”
That same article addresses Social Transition of Transgender or Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) Youth.
“In prepubertal youth with gender dysphoria, social transition is often the first step taken to affirm gender identity and alleviate gender dysphoria. Social transition may occur several years before any medical intervention. However, the long-term consequences of social transition for prepubertal children raise potential concerns. Although there are major limitations to and criticisms of the body of data examining the natural history of gender identity in prepubertal children with gender dysphoria, current evidence reveals that the majority of children who have gender dysphoria before the onset of puberty will not seek medical transition once puberty has commenced.”
“Although it has been suggested that the intensity of gender dysphoric feelings above a certain threshold may indicate that a child will be more likely to seek permanent gender transition, further studies are needed to understand the etiology of childhood gender dysphoria. There is also a potential concern that prepubertal children who have socially transitioned may feel “boxed in” to their affirmed gender identities if parents reinforce a gender binary and imply that their children’s gender identities are irreversible. Moreover, there is little research on adolescent-onset gender dysphoria, and the rate of persistence within this community of patients is not known.”
“A recent landmark study compared the mental health of prepubertal children with gender dysphoria who received support from their families in regard to their social transition to those of cisgender age-matched controls; the authors found that rates of depression were similar between the 2 groups with minimal elevations in anxiety in the socially transitioned group. Although the findings of this study may be due in part to the particular or unique characteristics of the participants and their families, thus limiting the generalizability of the findings, the affirmative approach to care exemplified in this study is in contrast to those who encourage prepubertal children to accept their natal gender. Long-term outcomes data are needed to better predict which children would benefit from social transition and examine the repercussions for children who have transitioned socially and who ultimately do not identify as transgender.”
Yet Model Policies prescribes that schools affirm and participate in that very social transition by students who self-identify as transgender – and do it with school personnel unqualified to do so.
Ethics challenges and legal liability
“School personnel” are directed by Model Policies to make ethical decisions in the carrying out the directive. They are directed
- to treat a self-identifying child as transgender or gender nonconforming (TGNC).
- to decide whether even to notify the parents, much less seek their permission.
- to turn in the parents to Child Protective Services if they even “suspect” that a student is “at risk of abuse or neglect” by their parent due to their transgender identity. Suspect that a student is at risk. Think about that.
The Professional Development and Training section of Model Policies is particularly dreadful.
“The goal of professional development for all staff is to ensure that they understand the rights of all students to a safe learning environment and the local school board’s expectations regarding the treatment of transgender students. Additionally, professional development should include culturally affirming, accessible LGBTQ+ competency training.”
Transgender because they self-assessed. Student rights but not parental rights.
But such training shall include:
- “Knowledge of LGBTQ+ affirming resources for students and families.”
- “Strategies to engage parents and other stakeholders regarding an inclusive school community that affirms LGBTQ+ students.”
So the schools are directed to “affirm” first graders self-identifying as transgender. I could not make that up.