Titans Participate In Statewide Walkout Protesting New Department of Education Policy


Nazaaha Farooq

Emma Mitchell and Cass Sanzano comfort each other throughout the walkout, including during disruptions from the crowd.

Upon the release of the Virginia Department of Education’s “2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools,” an uproar of voices has emerged both in favor of, and against the new policies. Amidst those voices are four Dominion students who organized a walkout yesterday at 1:15 pm in protest of the drafted Model Policies.

The walkout was not an isolated event, but instead part of a collective protest throughout Virginia schools. Rivka Vizcado-Lichter, lead organizer with the Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization which advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights in Virginia said that “around 95-100 schools are participating in the walkouts.”

Policy 8040 was implemented in the Spring of 2021 to protect the rights of trangender and gender-expansive students, including rights to be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns. However, on September 16th, these rights were challenged by the newly proposed policies for 2022. 

“[This change] means students cannot go by a preferred name or pronouns unless they have parental permission, which is a problem because a lot of students may not have accepting parents,” said Cass Sanzano, a transgender student and one of the organizers.

During the walkout, all four Dominion student organizers, senior Nora Thimmesch, sophomore Cass Sanzano, and juniors Kendall Kitchen and Emma Mitchell, spoke before opening up the conversation to other participants. QR codes were provided for students and walkout participants“ to email the [Loudoun County] school board and the governor [of Virginia],” Sanzano said.

Cass Sanzano and Kendall Kitchen embrace as the walkout concluded. (Nazaaha Farooq)

According to Vizcado-Lichter, the Pride Liberation Project has testified and rallied at multiple school board meetings and the General Assembly in the past. “We internally strategized on how to best approach the removal of these proposed guidelines, and then mobilized thousands of students to walk out across Virginia, using social media and other forms of communication,” Vizcado-Lichter said.

Once the walkout began, the organizers were met by about 200 students outside of the school. “This legislation is really bad. I’m not transgender, but I have friends who are and I just know how much worse would be for them. I want to make sure that their mental well being is good. The fact that’s gonna affect them is gonna end up affecting me,” Kiki Tsuyuki. 

“I feel unsafe, I don’t want to use the bathroom here anymore, because I’m afraid of what could happen to me. I also don’t know where I’m allowed to go or if I’m going to be called out for it. It’s a very scary time,” senior Cady Litteral, a transgender student, said.

“This [legislation] is very unfair, and it personally affects me because I’m part of the LGBT community. But then when I think about how they’re us as a whole, they’re kicking people out, even though you’re normal just like everyone else, but they’re treating you as if you’re different,” Maya Van Wyngaardt said. 

Since the newly proposed policies primarily affect students, “their concerns and opinions should be valued and prioritized,” Vizcardo-Lichter said. “These policies should be protested given their extremist and regressive nature which betrays the original intent of the model policies bill passed in 2020.”

“I’m really thankful to all the people that came out and support whether you’re part of the community or not, it was really helpful that they came. I think the only thing that we can truly do is that we have to vote, we have to use our rights, because stuff like this is happening all over the country,” Thimmesch said. 

Though there was a great percentage of students outside in support, there was also a large group of students solely present to get out of class. These students were disruptive, causing loud noises and even popping bags and throwing water bottles into the crowd.

Though this disruption was expected, it was still disappointing to the students there to actually support the cause. “It’s not even that they just get to miss class, [but that] they couldn’t even muster up the respect to be here. It’s really unfortunate. This is a different scene. Last year, [the walkout] was different, because that really hit everyone. This here, it doesn’t hit everybody, but it really should be in the back of their heads. So I really just hope that even if they came to miss class, that they at least heard one thing that we said,” Thimmesch said.

Kitchen added, “I hope that at some point in [the students] lives, they get over whatever is making them act like that towards people because it’s not going to get them anywhere and it’s not cute, it’s just so disrespectful and wrong. I just hope that whatever is in their lives that’s making them act that way they get over or get some help.”