Katharine Frey

Katharine Frey is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Virginia education agency proposes policies to clarify approaches to transgender students in public schools

The Virginia Department of Education proposed new policies on September 16, 2022, that aim to provide guidance to the state’s public schools on the Youngkin administration’s preferred approaches to transgender students. 

The new policies depart from former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s administration guidelines, which encouraged schools to let students use names and pronouns aligning with their gender identity without formal documentation. Titled 2022 Model Policies On The Privacy, Dignity, And Respect For All Students And Parents In Virginia’s Public Schools, the new education policy mandate the following approaches:

  • Transgender students must use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their assigned sex at birth
  • The legal name and sex of a student cannot be changed even with written instruction from a parent or student unless official legal documentation or a court order is presented
  • Teachers and school officials are only allowed to refer to a student by the pronouns associated with their sex at birth
  • Teachers are not required to use a student’s preferred name regardless of written instruction if they believe doing so would violate their constitutionally protected rights

The Virginia Department of Education stated that the policy “reaffirms the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated. Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia.”

In response to the policy proposal, Mike Mullin, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, tweeted, “Trans kids deserve to learn and thrive in an environment free of bullying, intimidation, and fear. That means being addressed as who they are and supported for who they will be. Especially from their teachers and their administrators.”

The general public will be allowed to comment on the proposed policy using the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website. 

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Washington school board passes new curriculum guidelines on U.S. history and race topics

The Kennewick School Board in Washington state unanimously voted to adopt a new set of curriculum guidelines on August 24, 2022, that aim to restrict teachings on U.S. history and race. 

Kennewick School Board passed a new policy, known as Policy 2340, that would prohibit teachings that the U.S. is fundamentally or systemically racist or that a group of people is inherently racist, oppressed, or victims. The policy also seeks to bar politically leaning content from being included in course curricula, including the “1619 Project” and the “Zinn Education Project.” 

In reference to Policy 2340, Kennewick School Board member Gabe Galbraith said during the school board meeting, “Anytime in politics, there’s give and take. Could this have been stronger? I think so. But we had a great discussion in June and everyone was able to voice their concerns and thoughts, and I think we were able to capture that in this policy.”

Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association teacher union, argued critical race theory was never a part of the curriculum and that the policy would not change current teaching methods. “Educators in Kennewick have always done a great job presenting factual information to students in a professional manner, and that will continue to be the case regardless of incendiary — but, ultimately, unsubstantiated — issues, which tend to rise up and then fade away,” he said.

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Texas school district limits discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain books

The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas on August 22, 2022, approved a policy by a 4-3 vote that would limit classroom discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain library materials. 

The approved policy:

  • Allows educators to use pronouns that align with a student’s biological sex rather than their gender identity
  • Prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity
  • Bars teachers from including political advocacy in their curriculum and awarding students academic credit for political activism
  • Forbids K-5 students from engaging in classroom discussions regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and race
  • Permits school board members and parents to oppose library materials 
  • Authorizes the school board to not have to reconsider banned books for at least a decade

In support of the policy, board member Casey Ford said, “These policies are the product of input from several groups — the board’s policy committee, the district’s attorneys, the board’s attorneys, a committee of administrators and principals and, most importantly, community members.”

Mike Sexton, a parent in the school district, disagreed with some of the board members. Sexton said, “You can talk about Santa Claus, but you can’t talk about gay people to fifth graders. This is incredible — you’re acting like people don’t exist. There’s thousands of people in this district that are LGBTQ, that live here, that are taxpayers,” according to the Texas Tribune.

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Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics

A parent group on July 8, 2022, filed a lawsuit in the Twenty-First Judicial District against Tennessee education officials and the Williamson County school district for allegedly violating state laws restricting teachings on race and gender.

Tennessee House Bill 580 aims to prohibit school districts from incorporating materials into the curriculum that portray the United States as racist or sexist, or that make students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. Parents’ Choice Tennessee, the parent group, claims the school district’s English/language arts curriculum contains what the group considers to be age-inappropriate material that discusses topics of race. The group is seeking for the school district to permanently remove the curriculum. 

Trisha Lucente, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the founder of Parents’ Choice Tennessee, said that she would prefer a “true English Language Arts curriculum that teaches phonics, classical literature, and is free of any politics or political agenda,” according to Education Week.

Jennifer Cortez, co-founder of an organization that advocates for students of color in the school district, disagreed with  Lucente’s claims by sharing, “[m]y daughter went through these Civil Rights modules and didn’t feel one ounce of white guilt about it. She just felt sad that that happened. Meanwhile, our students of color are dealing with actual harassment.”

The case was pending before Tennessee’s Twenty-First Judicial District as of August 5, 2022. Tennessee as of 2021 was one of 17 states that had imposed restrictions on curriculum material in public schools concerning topics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

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Federal judge blocks Biden administration guidance on transgender students

A federal judge from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on July 15, 2022, struck down a Department of Education order that aims to protect transgender students and workers from discrimination. 

The Biden administration released the challenged guidance in response to recent legislation passed by states that aim to bar transgender students from participating on school sports teams and using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The guidance states transgender students are protected under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex at federally funded schools. It also claims that transgender workers are protected under Title VII, which bars employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, and/or national origin. The department in June issued a proposed rule seeking to codify parts of the guidance. 

Tennesse and 19 other Republican-led states brought a lawsuit against the federal government last August, asserting the Department of Education overreached its executive authority by issuing the order. The states claim in part that the department’s guidance infringes on state power in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Judge Charles Atchley, a Trump appointee, ruled the department overreached its authority in order to penalize states for their recent legislation. In a preliminary injunction, Judge Atchley wrote, “[T]he harm alleged by plaintiff States is already occurring – their sovereign power to enforce their own legal code is hampered by the issuance of defendants’ guidance and they face substantial pressure to change their state laws as a result.”

In response to the ruling, Joni Madison, the Human Rights Campaign’s interim president, said, “Nothing in this decision can stop schools from treating students consistent with their gender identity. And nothing in this decision eliminates schools’ obligations under Title IX or students’ or parents’ abilities to bring lawsuits in federal court.” 

Additional reading:

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

Charles Atchley

Ninth Circuit greenlights Arizona challenge to federal tax mandate (2022)

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 19, 2022, ruled 3-0 that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has standing to challenge the constitutionality of the federal tax mandate under the American Rescue Plan Act.. 

Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Treasury in March 2021 arguing the tax mandate is unconstitutional because it penalizes a state if they use federal COVID-19 relief funding to subsidize a tax cut. Outlined in the American Rescue Plan Act, states are not permitted to use COVID-19 relief funds to offset reduction in net tax revenues. States can use the funds to respond to the public health emergency, to assist households, small businesses, and nonprofits, and to aid affected industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality. 

The United States District Court for the District found that Arizona lacked standing to bring the lawsuit and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Brnovich appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which remanded the case back to the district court, finding that Arizona “had standing to challenge ARPA both because there was a realistic danger of ARPA’s enforcement, and because there was a justiciable challenge to the sovereignty of the State, which alleges infringement on its authority to set tax policy and its interest in being free from coercion impacting its tax policy.”

Attorney General Brnovich argued that the tax mandate threatens state sovereignty. “The federal government does not get to tell states how to set their tax rates. Yet, the Biden administration is attempting to intimidate and punish states with the loss of COVID-19 relief funding if they don’t submit to these unconstitutional demands,” said Brnovich. 

The U.S. Department of the Treasury had yet to comment on the ruling as of June 8, 2022.

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South Carolina governor signs bill barring transgender youth from participating in public school and collegiate women’s sports

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed a bill into law on May 16, 2022, that prohibits transgender students from participating in women’s sports at public schools and colleges in the state. The new law requires students to play on sports teams that match the gender assigned on their birth certificates. The South Carolina House of Representatives passed House Bill 4608 by a vote of 70 to 33. 

Earlier this month, McMaster said, “I think the girls ought to play girls and the boys ought to play boys. That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Supporters of H.B. 4608 argue transgender girls would have an unfair advantage on women’s sports teams. They suggest transgender athletes could soon make up the majority of athletes receiving podium spots and awards.

Ivy Hill, Executive Director of Gender Benders and the Community Health Program Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, told NPR, “Transgender youth are not a threat to fairness in sports, and this law now needlessly stigmatizes young people who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence, make friends, and build skills like teamwork and leadership, winning and losing.”

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New Oklahoma law governs bathroom use in public schools

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) on May 25, 2022, signed a bill into law requiring transgender students to use the restroom that matches their sex assigned at birth. Senate Bill 615 passed the House with a vote of 69-14 and the Senate by a vote of 38-7. 

The law governs the use of multiple-occupancy restrooms in the state’s public and charter schools. The law also requires schools to make a single-occupancy restroom or changing room available to students who do not feel comfortable using multiple-occupancy facilities. Parents and students under the law are encouraged to report to school officials any students they suspect of using the restroom not corresponding with their sex assigned at birth. Any school district that does not enforce the law could lose up to 5 percent of state funding. 

The House author of S.B. 615, Republican state Rep. Danny Williams, said the purpose of the bill was to protect our children, according to KTUL Tulsa. Williams continued, “It’s about safety, it’s about protection, it’s about common sense.”

Democratic state Rep. Jacob Rosencrants, whose son is transgender, argued against the bill. He said, “My child wants to go to the bathroom where he feels comfortable. My kid just wants to ‘be’ … and he doesn’t feel like he can do that in this state.”

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North Carolina legislature proposes LGBTQ curriculum ban in grades K-3

A North Carolina Senate proposed bill was amended on May 24, 2022, to prohibit public schools from teaching LGBTQ curriculum in kindergarten through third grade. 

The bill, titled the Parents’ Bill of Rights, requires K-12 public schools and local school boards to adopt procedures that notify parents of a change in their child’s mental or physical health. Under H.B. 755, parents would be informed if their child decides to use different pronouns at school and would also be required to sign off on any counseling or non-emergency health care their child seeks. The Senate amendment would prohibit the inclusion of LGBTQ curriculum in kindergarten through third grade. 

Although similar to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill prohibiting instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation for kindergarten through third-grade students, North Carolina’s Parents’ Bill of Rights does not prohibit conversations about sexuality in classrooms. Senate President Phil Berger (R) said, “There’s no attempt to squelch folks from talking about things. There is a specific prohibition on it being part of a curriculum in kindergarten through third grade.”

State Senator Deanna Ballard (R) supported the bill, telling the Associated Press, “Greater participation from our parents really does lead to a better quality of life for our students. When parents are excluded from critical decisions affecting their child’s health and well-being at school, it really sends a message to children that parents’ input and authority is really no longer important.”

House Bill 755 passed the North Carolina Senate with a vote of 28-22 on June 2, 2022. 

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Mellen School District votes to prohibit race from being discussed during American history lessons

The Mellon School Board in Wisconsin voted on April 20, 2022, to adopt a new policy to prohibit race from being discussed during American history lessons. This decision follows a vote in March that barred subjects such as critical race theory, religion, sexual orientation, privilege, empathy, and political orientation from being taught in classrooms. 

The school board’s new policy adopted its language following survey responses from parents. Besides barring discussions of race during history lessons, the new policy states that gender and sexual orientation can be discussed using only what is described as fact-based information rather than theory or discussion. Teachers are allowed to address topics such as privilege but cannot discuss race when doing so. Similarly, educators may talk about equity but are prohibited from mentioning race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

According to the survey conducted by Mellen School District, 72% of responders opposed teaching sexual orientation; 73% opposed teaching gender identity; 66% opposed teaching critical race theory, and 68% opposed teaching white privilege. Conversely, 64% of responders support teaching empathy, 58% supported teaching inclusion, and 56% support teaching anti-racism.

Eight teachers submitted a letter to the board against the new policy. They argue the policy will deprive students of the opportunity to practice the reasoning and communication skills necessary to develop and defend their own opinion regarding these topics, according to the Ashland Daily Press