THE FREE LANCE STAR
SINCE his ascension to the governor’s mansion in January, Glenn Youngkin has used the phrase “parental rights” with all the aplomb of a boisterous child wielding a lightsaber in a glass shop.
Of course, the problem with parental rights, as Youngkin talks about it, is that he’s pitting one parent’s rights against another. If one parent insists their child not be exposed to evolution and another parent in the same class insists their child is, someone will lose.
So the question becomes, whose rights is Youngkin defending? Apparently, Youngkin’s moral compass is the determining factor, and that’s bad news for those who disagree with him.
The attack began on the first day.
In Executive Order 1, Youngkin denied the rights of parents who wanted to teach their children the realities of institutional racism.
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How many parents is that? If a survey of parents in Missouri — a decidedly more conservative state than Virginia — is correct, the answer is most of them.
Evan Rhinesmith and J. Cameron Anglum, both of the St. Louis University School of Education, asked parents in Missouri: Should schools “be allowed to teach how racism can exist in society and its institutions?”
Their findings, published in the March 2, 2022 issue of EdWeek, concluded: “[S]Support for allowing racism-oriented education is significantly greater than the opposition.”
Youngkin’s concern is with those who, for various misinformed reasons, do not accept what scholars have repeatedly proven – racism remains a significant problem in America’s legal, political and social systems. (Brandi Blessett of the University of Cincinnati was particularly significant in the finding.)
Then there is the issue of sexual identity. In August, Youngkin made it clear that he wants the Virginia Department of Education to force teachers to tell parents if their children come out as LGBTQ+ or even ask questions about sexual identity.
Youngkin put it in writing on Friday. The title of its policy — “2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” — is a propaganda study.
When it comes to students and their gender identity, the document denies them privacy and robs them of their dignity.
First, the guidelines state that parents alone can decide how their children and young adults talk about their sexuality and orientation.
“To ensure that parents can make the best decisions regarding their child,” the report says, “school staff keep parents fully informed of all matters that can reasonably be expected of a parent.” are important, including without limitation, matters related to their child’s health and social and psychological development.”
Second, this document puts teachers at the center. A key factor in the success of any teacher is their ability to build a trusting relationship with their students. Under this policy, teachers cannot do this. Instead of being a trusted adult that children can turn to, teachers have to act as government-paid moles who out their students.
What is the potential harm of letting parents decide these matters?
We all hope parents would embrace their kids who come out, but the research is pretty clear – the parents are all too often the problem.
We know that LGBTQ+ students are at significantly higher risk of suicide than their peers. Not because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but “because they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” according to the Trevor Project.
Research by the Trevor Project has shown that having an accepting adult in the life of an LGBQ+ youth reduces that youth’s risk of suicide by 40%. Teachers are in a prime position to play this accepting adult role.
We know that too many parents fail on this front.
Lesley University has researched youth homelessness, which is significantly higher among LGBTQ+ people than their peers. While there are many reasons why LGBTQ+ youth live on the streets, family unity is often at the heart of the problem. “Half of all teenagers,” reports the university, “get a negative reaction from their parents when they come out to them.”
If a teacher suspects abuse, he or she has a legal obligation to report those concerns to the state — not to speak to the child’s parents. If a student comes out to a teacher and says he’s worried about how his parents will react, does it make sense to report that child to his parents knowing the potential dangers? That’s Youngkin’s idea.
Every day the dovish, ah-shucks facade that Youngkin wore during the campaign falls away.
It hides behind words like “dignity” and “respect”. But under that sweater vest is a lightsaber. And he sees more of us than meets the eye than Darth Vader.