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Thousands of Virginia students protesting Youngkin's transgender policy changes

Students at nearly 100 schools are planning to walk out of class on Tuesday over the governor's new policies surrounding parental rights and transgender students.

VIRGINIA, USA — Students at nearly 100 schools across Virginia are planning to walk out of class Tuesday in response to Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed policies that would change how schools in the commonwealth treat transgender students.

The student-run Pride Liberation Project is organizing the walk-outs on Tuesday. A list of participating schools shows several high schools in Arlington, Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties.

"Students are asking the Department of Education to revoke these draft guidelines and for individual school districts to reject these proposed changes," organizers said in a press release.

Ranger Balleisen, a senior at McLean High School, said Youngkin's planned policies terrify him. The 17-year-old has been out as transgender at school a while, but only very recently came out to his parents.  

"If these policies had been enforced, I would have been forcibly outed to my parents," he said. "Coming out is a beautiful thing, if people want to do it. But I don't think anybody should be forced."

Under the 2022 Model Policies released by the Virginia Department of Education, new rules include students only being allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their biological sex. Students can only participate on athletics teams that align with their sex assigned at birth. Teachers and staff can only refer to students by their names and pronouns associated with their records unless a parent says otherwise.

These new policies are a big pivot from the previous state administration, which signed a law requiring school districts to adopt policies respecting a student's transgender status, gender identity and use of pronouns and names.

The governor bills the new policies as a matter of parental rights, an issue that galvanized his campaign and helped him get elected.

"This is truly not a parent's rights issue," Baleisen said. "This is an intentional means of harming trans students. I want to go to my calculus class. I do not want to be fighting for my rights."

Several school districts in Northern Virginia are resisting the governor's policies.

But protest organizers said they're walking out Tuesday in hope of protecting transgender students across the Commonwealth. By law, Virginia students get one excused absence to protest.

RELATED: Virginia school districts respond to Gov. Youngkin's new transgender student policies

RELATED: 'Trust your parents' | Virginia Gov. Youngkin talks new transgender policy in schools

Youngkin has been vocal about protecting "parental rights" and how parents should be more informed on conversations surrounding their child's gender and sexual orientation.  The governor has ordered school divisions to adopt the policy, but there's still a 30-day public comment period, which begins on Sept. 27.

Several Virginia school districts have already pushed back against the proposed changes.

Arlington County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán released a letter to the community last week. He said the district will continue to support the rights of transgender, non-binary and gender-fluid students. 

"[APS] remains committed to providing school environments that are welcoming, safe and supportive for all students," Durán wrote.

The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said in a letter to families that FCPS remains committed to an "inclusive learning environment" for students and staff members. 

"Here at Fairfax County Public Schools, we are dedicated to providing a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member, and family is welcomed, respected, valued, and supported, as they experience a deep sense of belonging," Reid wrote.

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