LEESBURG – With early voting about to begin in congressional and local elections, Gov. Glenn Youngkin put a spotlight on Virginia’s “safe and secure” election process on Tuesday, while defending a new electoral watchdog Attorney General Jason Miyares created in response to the political outcry over the 2020 presidential results.
However, the election message was overshadowed by questions over the model school policies that Youngkin’s Department of Education quietly issued late Friday to reverse guidelines his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam, established for the protection of transgender students.
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The new model policies for local school boards require students to use bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth “except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.” The new model policies also specify that student participation in school athletics and activities shall be based on “biological sex” and require parental approval of changes to a student’s name, including the use of pronouns.
“We want to respect all students. We want to respect their privacy, their dignity, their safety,” Youngkin said Tuesday.
“And second of all we want to reaffirm the fact that parents must have a role in their children’s lives. And as these important decisions are made parents should be informed and included.”
Youngkin was asked what he would say to transgender students who are concerned that they are not supported at home.
“I would say trust your parents,” Youngkin said. “At the moment where there are very difficult issues in families – challenging issues in families – families come together. And this is why parents, in fact, have a role in their children’s lives.”
After touring the Loudoun County Department of Elections office here, Youngkin endorsed the integrity of Virginia’s voting system, but backed Miyares, his Republican running-mate in statewide elections last fall, for creating a task force to, in the attorney general’s words, “restore confidence in our democratic process in the commonwealth.”
“I can’t see why anyone would be upset about the fact that our attorney general recognizes that people have concerns,” Youngkin said outside the Loudoun elections office. “People have concerns about the election process.”
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“I don’t believe there are any issues at all with the attorney general’s election integrity task force, and, in fact, I think it’s a good thing,” he said.
Youngkin’s appearance was part of a daylong swing that included a brief campaign stop in Ashburn for Republican congressional candidate Hung Cao, who is trying to unseat Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, in midterm elections in November. The 10th is based in Loudoun and Prince William counties.
The governor also was scheduled to appear at a private political fundraiser on Tuesday evening.
Early voting in Virginia’s elections will begin on Friday, and Republicans are trying to focus voter attention on inflation, crime and education under President Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress. Democrats raise concerns about Republican attacks on abortion rights and the democratic process, after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s election as president.
Standing in the produce aisle of an Asian-owned market, Youngkin urged 10th District voters to elect Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant and retired U.S. Navy captain, “so he can get to work to get inflation down.” The statement, filmed with Cao at his side and Asian shoppers behind them, will fuel campaign advertising to help the Republican in a newly drawn suburban district that leans Democratic.
The governor also hinted that he might make endorsements in races for seats on the Loudoun County School Board, which has been a primary target of his ire over school security and policies that emphasize racial equity and the rights of transgender students.
The culture wars raging around the Loudoun school board played heavily in Youngkin’s successful gubernatorial campaign – although former Gov. Terry McAuliffe beat him here by about 18,000 votes – and as governor, Youngkin tried unsuccessfully to force all members of the board to stand for re-election this year. The Virginia Senate rejected his legislative proposal in late April.
In a back-to-school rally in last month in Fairfax County’s Annandale, the governor focused more on local school boards and education policies than the congressional midterms, even though Cao and two other Republican congressional candidates appeared at the rally.
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“School boards matter, very much so,” Youngkin said in response to a question on Tuesday about whether he would endorse candidates in the Loudoun school board races.
“I think we’ll continue to review it and make some decisions shortly,” he said.
Youngkin did not address questions raised by some law professors about the legality of his new model school policies, such as whether they could conflict with federal law protecting transgender student rights or require General Assembly approval.
He focused instead on the role he said parents should play in such discussions involving their children.
Youngkin noted that a 30-day public comment on the proposed policies will begin on Sept. 26, and that local school boards will “follow up with their specific policies based on this model policy.”
He acknowledged that teachers and school counselors can be involved, but he said, “Parents should be first there.”
In response to student concerns about their safety by involving parents in those discussions, Youngkin said, “I would find in very hard to argue that a parent being engaged in a child’s life is inconsistent with that child’s safety.”
However, he said, under the model policies if a parent is involved and makes an authorization to the school, “accommodations will be made for that child.”
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