Two Virginia mothers shared their opposing views on whether teachers should allow students to take steps toward transitioning genders without parental consent.
Fairfax County Public Schools, where the two moms send their children, issued training materials for teachers indicating that students can change their names and pronouns on school documents without parental consent, and can use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their chosen gender. Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently updated model policies that say schools should restrict students to programs and bathrooms that align with their biological sex, though the Virginia Republican's orders are likely to face legal challenges.
"I believe these policies are promoting the idea of transitioning for children who normally wouldn't come up with this idea on their own," Brooke Corbett, an FCPS mother of three, told Fox News. She said this policy could encourage more children to transition genders before full development.
But Mara Stengler, an FCPS mother of two, said allowing classroom discussions about gender identity wouldn't cause a student to transition.
"I don't think that's something you're going to willy-nilly choose and think, ‘oh, okay well, I think today I just feel this way because my teacher mentioned that I could,’" she said. "I just I don't see that happening."
Corbett criticized the secrecy promoted in FCPS's training and said students with gender dysphoria need medical attention beyond a teacher's qualifications. She also felt educators need to instead focus on closing academic gaps caused by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stengler, meanwhile, said clarifying and respecting students' gender identity will make classrooms a more comfortable learning environment for them. It would also create a support system for trans students outside their homes, which could be crucial if families aren't accepting, she said.
"Let's just upfront, see what the kid wants to go by, what the kid wants to be called," Stengler told Fox News. "Then we can just go ahead and learn."
But Corbett said gender identity discussions are "an enormous distraction for a population whose minds are very malleable and don't really know exactly what they stand for and are figuring that out right now."
"I don't believe that these topics deserve a lot of airtime in our schools," she added.
Debates over whether gender identity and sexual orientation are appropriate classroom discussions have become flashpoints nationwide. In Virginia, parental rights in education became central to Youngkin's 2021 campaign amid repeated controversies in local education systems.
The state Department of Education on Friday updated its model policies regarding how schools treat transgender students. They say teachers can only refer to a student by a different name or pronoun if parents sign off in writing and forbid schools from pushing educators to hide information about a student's gender from their parent.
Virginia Del. Danica Roem tweeted that Youngkin's policy violate the state's Human Rights Act.
"If you want to break the law, then we’ll see you in court," she tweeted.
Corbett, meanwhile, said she was unaware of the FCPS teacher training until she started hearing murmurs from other parents after the school year had already started. She felt there was a lack of transparency from the school district.
"There’s an obfuscation and a secrecy that’s creating a wedge," Corbett said. "It's creating lies between a parent and child relationship."
"It would be the straw that broke the camel's back to pull my last child out of the public school system," Corbett said. "I would want to take legal action against them."
But Stengler said not all parents would support their children's decision to transition genders. She said some kids who experience gender dysphoria have been ridiculed and bullied, while others have been ostracized by their families.
There's a reason "kids are choosing not to talk to their parents," Stengler said. "Maybe their parents need to look inward and figure out what that reason is."
"Maybe it's not so much about the school and the school district and what they're doing, but maybe it's about their parenting and their parenting techniques," she continued.
Stengler, a social worker, has worked at a foster care agency for two decades. She said teachers stepping in to support students with gender dysphoria is similar to the state assisting neglected children.
A teacher's involvement and openness "gives kids a chance to have other adults in their lives," Stengler said. "Why wouldn’t we want our kids to have as many reasonable, smart adults that can give them help and guidance?"
But Corbett said any student experiencing gender dysphoria needs medical assistance.
"That requires me to know about it," Corbett told Fox News. "Unless a classroom teacher is also a licensed psychiatrist or a psychologist, what business do they have entering what most people would consider a medical conversation with our children?"
"Let's let their families of origin deal with this and let's support them to the best of our ability with the educational resources and the counseling resources without overstepping the family's boundaries," she said.
She said schools should be more concerned about the teacher shortage and learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Average reading scores among 9-year-olds saw the sharpest decline in 30 years, while math scores decreased for the first time in history, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In FCPS, students' reading scores decreased 10% from 2019 through 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Math scores also dropped 30% for the school district.
"These types of policies … take valuable resources away from the root of what we send our kids to school to be educated," Corbett said.
But Stengler told Fox News: "The school's trying to make kids feel comfortable, and everybody's different."
She said some parents are "trying to make it like the teachers and other people have an agenda," which is making "more good teachers not want to be teachers."
"I don't think people went into the teaching profession to make millions of dollars and brainwash children or change their political viewpoints," Stengler continued.
Corbett worried that children will transition before they can understand the potential long-term ramifications.
"This is a social contagion that's been promoted by ideological policies really without a lot of thought put into the long-term consequences and damage that we're doing to our children," Corbett told Fox News.
"I've never showed up to a school board election before, but now I'm going to because I'm really upset," she said. "I see that this is what happens when we don't do anything and we're complacent."
FCPS did not respond to a request for comment.