Fort Worth

Obama’s transgender bathroom edict goes beyond Fort Worth’s guidelines

Fort Worth schools Superitendent Dr. Kent Scribner has been at the center of the debate on guidelines for transgender students.
Fort Worth schools Superitendent Dr. Kent Scribner has been at the center of the debate on guidelines for transgender students. jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

The Fort Worth school district is one step ahead of President Obama’s directive that says public schools must allow transgender students access to bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identity —but with one glaring omission.

Fort Worth’s guidelines, which were signed off on in April by Superintendent Kent Scribner, do not include language that guarantees transgender students access to all bathrooms. A version of guidelines that included such language was reviewed by Fort Worth school board members in January and removed, said Michael Steinert, assistant superintendent of student support services for Fort Worth schools.

Instead, the 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.

I can assure you that we will continue making the individualized student accommodations consistent with the guidelines we currently have in place.

Michael Steinert, assistant superintendent

Steinert said Friday that, based on Obama’s directive, the school board and superintendent will consult with attorneys before deciding on how to proceed.

In the interim, “I can assure you that we will continue making the individualized student accommodations consistent with the guidelines we currently have in place,” Steinert said.

Much of what is dictated in Obama’s executive order, which is being sent to school districts on Friday, is already noted in Fort Worth’s guidelines, including that “the single-user restroom, however, must not be given as the only option for transgender students who need or desire increased privacy. ”

Fort Worth’s guidelines also note that a “reasonable accommodation” must be made for transgender students in regard to locker rooms, including: being assigned a student locker near staff or nurse’s office; using the private area within a locker room; or using a locker room when it is not in use by others.

Scribner, in an emailed statement, said: “As educators, our job is to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment so that our children can prepare for success in college, career and community leadership. Our guidelines seek parental and family involvement in any decision that could impact a student’s academic success. The bottom line is that our policy helps protect kids from bullying …nothing more, nothing less.”

A quick survey of other North Texas school districts show that they use similar approaches when dealing with transgender students, though it isn’t always written into policy.

“Every school district and community that has transgender kids has been doing what we have been doing,” Steinert said. “That resolution works out for everybody.”

Fort Worth’s guidelines were praised by Fort Worth’s LGBT community because they are an affirmation of transgender rights and give school officials a framework for handling such situations.

“What Fort Worth ISD did was something marvelous,” said David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, an organization that promotes LGBT issues in school districts.

Much of what is directed in Obama’s executive order regarding transgender students, which is being sent to school districts on Friday, is already noted in Fort Worth’s guidelines.

Although many people have shown support for Fort Worth’s stance, some elected officials and pro-family groups claim the district is creating a dangerous environment in which boys can use girls bathrooms. They say the guidelines violate the state education code. Complaints have been filed with the Texas Education Agency.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has led the charge against Fort Worth, saying Scribner should resign over the matter.

“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick said earlier this week. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasts Fort Worth Independent School District Superintendent Kent Scribner, and rallies conservatives to attend Tuesday board meeting.

After the president’s announcement on Thursday, Patrick said the Obama administration is “using the Fort Worth school district as their experiment in Texas.”

He called Scribner a “dictator” and said Fort Worth’s guidelines were essentially “a page right out of the president’s book.”

Supporters and opponents crowded into a Fort Worth school board meeting to voice concerns about a district policy on accommodation for transgender students. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall)

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Star-Telegram archives.

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