The public will get a chance to discuss the Fort Worth school district’s controversial transgender guidelines during a series of community forums in June at four high schools.
Arlington Heights, Dunbar, North Side, Paschal, Polytechnic and South Hills high schools will host the forums May 31-June 9. The forums will begin at 7 p.m.
The school district’s transgender guidelines are at the center of a political debate. Critics have called for the repeal of the guidelines and for Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign.
The Fort Worth district’s guidelines offer protection for transgender and other students, assuring that they can use a restroom where they “must feel comfortable and safe.” That could include using a single-stall restroom, a gender-neutral restroom “or the opportunity to visit the facility when other students are not present,” according to the guidelines that were announced at an April 26 board meeting.
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District 6 Trustee Ann Sutherland, who will host at forum at South Hills High School, said people will have the opportunity to participate in additional discussion about the rule. The input may be used to revisit the issue, she said.
“I anticipate a board discussion after the forums are completed and that will we will announce our decision at our earliest convenience after reviewing the public comment from these forums. … I believe the we will be revisiting the guidelines and possibly reviewing parts of our regulations,” Sutherland said.
District 7 Trustee Judy Needham said the board and superintendent may consider changes based on input gathered at the forums.
President Obama’s order says public schools must allow transgender students access to bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identity. Fort Worth’s guidelines do not include that specific language.
“I’m looking forward to hearing my community’s comments and concerns,” Needham said.
Although not listed as an action item, the issue might surface again at Tuesday’s regular meeting. Interest in the public comment portion of the meeting was high with 32 people signed up to talk as of 10:30 a.m. Monday. People can sign up to comment on issues of concern in advance, according to the school district.
Proponents of the guidelines have praised the district for protecting the civil rights of transgender students. Scribner authorized implementation of the guidelines before President Barack Obama issued a directive, which only fueled the firestorm in Fort Worth.
The president’s order says public schools must allow transgender students access to bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identity. Fort Worth’s guidelines do not include that specific language.
A learning opportunity
David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, an organization that promotes LGBT issues in school districts, said the forums are an opportunity to educate the public.
“As the FWISD guidelines are substantially equivalent to those issued by the federal government, these forums, at their best, present an opportunity to educate everyone in an environment that dispels fear, creates community engagement that will acknowledge and protect all students, and provide trustees a means to clarify for their constituents the District's requirements to comply with federal law,” Henderson said in a statement.
“We'll operate at our best when we have a greater appreciation of those around us. That's how our children thrive,” Henderson added.
Public opinion was not sought prior to the passing of these guidelines.
Zeb Pent, spokesman for Stand for Fort Worth
But critics worry that the guidelines ultimately allow boys to use girls bathrooms and vice versa. Other critics worry the guidelines open access to predators. Still others question why the school district approved guidelines without including the public.
Calls forums a ‘charade’
Zeb Pent, spokesman for Stand for Fort Worth, said his group wants the guidelines repealed and wonders why the forums are taking place after the guidelines were already approved.
“We see these community forums as a charade,” Pent said. “Public opinion was not sought prior to the passing of these guidelines.”
Pent said if the school district was “operating in normal fashion,” they would have sought public opinion earlier.
“What is the point of seeking public opinion at this time?” Pent said, adding that Scribner has said the guidelines will not be repealed.
Stand for Fort Worth has been collecting signatures in support of efforts to repeal the guidelines.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
If you go
Community forums are being held June 2 through June 9 at four Fort Worth high schools. Each forum begins at 7 p.m.
May 31: Dunbar High School, 5700 Ramey Ave, Fort Worth, hosted by board member Christene Moss.
June 1: Polytechnic High School, 1300 Conner Ave, Fort Worth, hosted by board members Tobi Jackson and T.A. Sims.
June 2: Paschal High School, 3001 Forest Park Blvd. in Fort Worth. Forum hosted by board member Matthew Avila.
June 6: Arlington Heights High School, 4501 West Freeway, Fort Worth. Forum hosted by Trustees Judy Needham and Norm Robbins.
June 7: North Side High School, 2211 Mckinley Ave, Fort Worth. Forum hosted by school board President Jacinto Ramos.
June 9: South Hills High School, 6101 McCart Ave, Fort Worth. Forum hosted by Trustee Ann Sutherland.