Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stood in solidarity Monday with dozens of parents and grandparents who called for the Fort Worth school district’s transgender guidelines to be repealed during a protest in front of Trimble Tech High School.
The group, called Stand for Fort Worth, protested the school district’s transgender guidelines, which offer protection for transgender and other students, assuring that they can use a restroom where they “must feel comfortable and safe.”
“Repeal! Resign! Reject!,” said Earl Burrell, who has grandchildren in the district. Burrell criticized the district for not putting the guidelines before parents and the community. Alluding to explanations that the effort reflects how districts are trying to protect students from violations of Title IX rules, he said: “We don’t need to bow to the imperial president and his bureaucracy.”
The protestors were joined by Paxton and Texas Values, a nonprofit organization that supports faith and family values in Texas.
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The controversial guidelines were announced in April, and even though they don’t say students must have access to bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, the rules set off a flurry of political posturing and criticism.
The guidelines say that accommodations must be made for transgender students, including the use a single-stall restroom, a gender-neutral restroom “or the opportunity to visit the facility when other students are not present.”
David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, an organization that promotes LGBT issues in school districts, has praised the local guidelines, saying they are in step with federal guidelines.
“Our superintendent and trustees are focused on the best education possible for all our children, so I find it incredulous to think there's much interest in voting to defy the federal government,” Henderson said Monday.
But Stand for Fort Worth members said the guidelines infringe on families and create a potentially inviting climate for “predators.” Critics also say the guidelines reflect a power overreach by Superintendent Kent Scribner, who didn’t let parents be part of the process when he announced the guidelines in April.
Paxton, who was in Fort Worth on a separate issue, stopped by the protest to show his support.
I wanted to hear what they have to say. I think they have legitimate concerns.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
“I think they have a legitimate concern,” Paxton said, adding that his office is looking into any legal issues regarding the guidelines.
A parents’ rights issue
Zeb Pent, spokesman for Stand for Fort Worth, said the group wants the guidelines to be vetted by the public and voted on by the school board.
Fort Worth school officials have said that while policies are required to be voted on, guidelines that supplement them aren’t.
“We want public discussion on this,” Pent said after the short protest. “One of our greatest issues with the guidelines is the interference — of what we say is a parent’s rights to have full access to information about their child.”
Allison Kelley, a mother of two youngsters in Fort Worth schools, said parents’ opinions should have been heard before the guidelines were approved.
“I think there are aspects that would be OK with an amendment,” Kelley said. “We need to come together in the middle of this and come up with something everybody feels comfortable with.”
The group says their issue is not with transgender children.
“Our issue is with those who would exploit the guidelines,” Pent said.
‘A tough issue’
Last week, during a contentious public forum before the district’s school board, Scribner said the district would provide safety, inclusion and education for all students.
Had I been on a committee, and we could have talked about it, it would be a different situation.
Allison Kelley, parent of two children in Fort Worth schools
“This is not a bathroom policy,” he said. Rather, he said, the guidelines provide campus personnel with instruction to support all students in a balanced and dignified way.
The school district’s anti-bullying policy was expanded in 2011 to include protection for students regarding their “gender identity and expression” and in 2012 added a gender-based harassment section. That change served to protect students who express themselves — including their sexuality — in nontraditional ways, the Star-Telegram reported on June 29, 2011.
In April 2014, the district adopted the current Student Welfare, Freedom From Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy (which is often referred to as FFH-Local ). School district officials said that policy is an evolving document that is regularly updated, including the transgender guidelines that were put in place last month.
In 2011, the Fort Worth school district was believed to be the first in the state to adopt such a policy. A recent informal survey by the Star-Telegram indicates that the Dallas, Houston and Austin school districts have similar wording.
Staff writer Sarah Bahari contributed to this report, which contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.