State Senator Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) is seeking to repeal a requirement that Virginia school districts pass policies consistent with the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students. Alongside policy debates about COVID-19, equity, and accelerated learning, the transgender policies were a major source of contention in 2021 as local school boards were forced to comply with state law – even when local officials didn’t agree with the policy.
“Senator Hackworth believes that education decisions are always best made when handled locally among those closest to the children and families served in those schools,” Hackworth Legislative Aide Tom Lester said in a statement to The Virginia Star.
“These unfunded mandates have created considerable pressure and financial burden in rural communities as we are still recovering from the economic blows from COVID shutdowns. Senator Hackworth has also received large amounts of feedback from constituents in the district expressing their concerns for another unfunded mandate from Richmond. SB 20 will still leave the opportunity for local school boards and communities to decide to voluntarily follow VDOE’s recommendation but removes the mandate,” Lester said.
Hackworth won a special election after the 2021 General Assembly session, and the bill is one of his first pieces of legislation.
Challenges to the requirement to comply with Virginia transgender policy are working their way through Virginia courts, and Attorney General Mark Herring’s office has been defending it against those lawsuits. It’s already unclear what enforcement exists against districts that defy the law. Herring has not gone after districts that don’t comply, and with Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares set to take office, state-level administration may continue to ignore violations of the requirement. Miyares may also choose to not defend the requirement against legal challenges.
Hackworth’s bill will face an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Although only one Democratic senator needs to flip on a vote to give a tie that Republican Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears can break, Democrats control critical committees where legislation is amended and approved before heading to the floor. Additionally, it’s not clear that Republicans are united in a desire to walk back the policy.
In 2020, Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) introduced SB 161, creating the requirement. Although most Senate Republicans voted against it, three voted in favor of it, including Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City.) Five House Republicans also voted in favor of Boysko’s bill. If Senate Republicans are not united behind Hackworth’s bill, it will be doomed even if Democrats allow it out of committee.
“Right now, it’s being reviewed by everyone and the Senator is certain it will receive enthusiastic response once it is read,” Lester said.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].