Glenn Youngkin: What Virginia’s New Governor Could Mean for Public Schools

After winning a campaign with a focus on public schools, how will Gov-elect Youngkin’s policy affect our county high schools?

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Virginia’s Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin along with Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares and Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears will be sworn in on January 15, on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

Alex Ewing, Staff Writer

Just a few days are left before Virginia gets a new governor, Glenn Youngkin, on January 15. In a stunning reversal from the Democrats’ big victory in the 2019 elections, Republicans will control some of the most important levers of power in Richmond: the Governorship, the Attorney General’s office, and the House of Delegates. 

On the campaign trail, Youngkin laid down his “Day One Game Plan” — a summary of his biggest policy items.

One of Youngkin’s most controversial proposed changes to public schools concerns the curriculum. Youngkin’s Day One Game Plan lists “Ridding Political Agendas from the Classroom by Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT)” as one of its top priorities. CRT is a lens through which to view American history through the experiences of racial minorities and the acknowledgement of systemic racism. 

In some school districts, the passage of legislation banning CRT has resulted in teachers being instructed to counter anti-racist books with “opposing views.” For example, in a now infamous recording, an administrator in Southlake, Texas recommended that teachers pair books detailing the experiences of Holocaust survivors with “opposing views.”

Even in Fairfax County, there have been calls from parents, supported by Youngkin, to remove books from schools libraries, such as Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, which were temporarily removed from libraries and reinstated following an extensive review. One of Youngkin’s campaign ads featured a Fairfax County parent who advocated for parental control over the school literature curriculum, expressing outrage over her son being required to read the classic novel Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Lewis freshman Daniel Gonzales supports free access to books in school libraries, but believes certain limitations should be in place. “Books about identity and personal discovery shouldn’t be banned as they let students find themselves in literature and feel more accepted. But books like Game of Thrones do not belong in a high school library because they include very graphic content that doesn’t belong in a school,” Gonzales said.

Another contentious policy item is Youngkin’s plan to fight the pandemic. The Omicron variant, the most contagious COVID variant, has prompted a number of public health experts to recommend that the public upgrade their mask quality and to get booster vaccines. As the new variant rages, some public health advocates are concerned about the possibility of Youngkin relaxing preventative measures in Virginia Public Schools. 

The governor-elect said that students should not be mandated to wear masks in school on the campaign trail and stood against mandatory vaccinations. The Fairfax Republican Party highlighted a statement made by Youngkin on the campaign trail. “We must respect parents’ right to decide what is best for their own children. If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate,” Youngkin said.

 Some Virginians have expressed worries that the Governor-elect could follow other Republican governors and issue executive orders banning vaccination requirements in public schools, like one issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Health experts have warned against relaxing measures too early and have been adamant about the risks of scrapping mask and vaccine requirements.

Equality advocates fear that one student minority could be under fire from the governor’s mansion. Advocates for trans students’ rights worry Youngkin could implement policies dubbed “bathroom bills,” which would prevent trans students from using their preferred bathroom. Youngkin has also attacked trans women playing in sports, in the process misgendering them, as reported by Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). GLAAD and the Virginia Democratic Party warn Youngkin could repeal the Virginia Values Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s nondiscrimination statutes, and ban trans students from competing in sports. 

A possible ban on trans students’ participation in sports would directly contradict FCPS policy. FCPS policy explicitly protects trans students: “In accordance with School Board policy and Virginia law, Regulation 2603 provides gender-expansive and transgender students with an equitable, safe, and supportive school environment.”

Lewis High School LGBTQ+ Alliance President, senior Ander Boulware voiced concerns about the dangers to trans students’ mental health should changes to protective policies occur. 

“I’m already a little worried about trans students in our school, and the incoming administration doesn’t particularly help. I do not think the school is equipped to deal with issues that will affect trans students under the new administration. There are a lot of people who aren’t educated and don’t understand the issues. We need more training for counselors where they can help trans students if things become more and more radical if the administration continues its transphobia,” Boulware said.

As a businessman and a political newcomer, not many of Youngkin’s positions are documented other than the contents of his Day One Game Plan. Whether he models his governorship after attention-grabbing Republican Governors or charts his own course, remains to be seen. But for some Virginians, the stakes couldn’t be higher.