Just hours before Thursday night’s school board meeting, Keller Superintendent Randy Reid announced that a vote on proposed policy protections for LGBT students and staff had been postponed.
Even so, the Rock Gym, where board meetings are held, was standing room only.
Initially, the agenda had included votes by trustees on several proposed district policy changes, including a half-dozen clauses aimed at protecting students and employees from discrimination, bullying and harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
As Reid said in an email about the postponed vote, “the issue has become extremely polarizing, with the great potential of creating feelings of winners and losers.”
About 30 people signed up to speak during the public comment period of the trustees meeting. Board President Craig Allen said policy allows just 30 minutes for comments, so speakers would be heard in the order they signed up and would each be given two minutes. The remainder could wait until the end of the meeting to speak to trustees, he said.
Two-thirds of those who spoke in the first round opposed extending protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Parent Lindsay French said she does not want anyone bullied but also doesn’t want to create special protections for LGBT students. She urged administrators to stop all kinds of bullying.
Joel Starnes, a Keller district resident, said the current anti-bullying policy is good and includes protection for all children. If students are still being bullied, educators should address those issues differently.
“What we need to do is change hearts, not policies,” Starnes said.
Katie Hicks, an incoming senior at Timber Creek High School, disagreed. She said LGBT students face hostility and mistreatment every day. She said she has witnessed death threats.
“Every student deserves the chance to feel safe and have a safe learning environment at school,” she said.
Several speakers who oppose the change said similar policies in other states had resulted in transgender restrooms and explicit sex education for all students. A few quoted the Bible.
Some of those who support the change cited statistics on suicide and depression rates among LGBT teens.
On March 26, high school students Casey Akers and Emily Hobart spoke to the board about discrimination they had experienced.
Akers told trustees that she was not allowed to ask her girlfriend to prom during a school lunch period. Administrators said the “promposal” was rejected because it would have been disruptive.
“#LetCaseyPromposal” went viral and brought national attention to the school district.
They were invited to participate in a May 8 workshop to review anti-bullying policies. Every year, teachers, students, parents and administrators participate in the workshop, break into subgroups and examine a third of all district policies. In addition to Akers and Hobart, several other students took part in other groups.
Akers, a junior at Timber Creek, said Thursday that she is disappointed the school board delayed action on the policy.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this meeting, and now we have to wait even longer,” Akers said.
She said she hoped to be part of the dialogue in helping LGBT students and staff in Keller schools.
Restrooms and sex ed
Current district policy protects students and employees from discrimination and harassment based on gender, race, color, religion, national origin, disability “or any other basis prohibited by law.”
Trustees got their first look at the proposal to include LGBT students in the policy June 25. Brad Schofield and Jo Lynn Haussmann immediately objected to the added language.
Schofield said the change would require the district to add restrooms for transgender students and would open up the schools to liability.
Haussmann said the policy review subcommittee gave into “peer pressure” because of the influence of the two students.
Administrators said the policies would not change practices related to gender-specific restrooms, locker rooms or sex education materials, which were some of the rumors running wild on social media this week.
This week, Schofield appeared as a guest on conservative talk radio to encourage listeners to attend the meeting and voice their opposition.
On the NE Tarrant Tea Party Facebook page, Haussmann also urged members to attend and express their displeasure.
Reid, the superintendent, said the schools already make accommodations for transgender students case by case.
“Some people are trying to make this a political statement,” Reid said. “This is something we already do as a district. We already protect all kids.”
Sandra Engelland, 817-390-7323