Fort Worth

Fort Worth school district’s transgender guidelines may be clarified

Stacey Monroe, left, a transgender woman, speaks on behalf of the Fort Worth school guidelines as Superintendent Kent Scribner and Trustee Ann Sutherland listen. Thursday, June 9, 2016, at South Hills High School.
Stacey Monroe, left, a transgender woman, speaks on behalf of the Fort Worth school guidelines as Superintendent Kent Scribner and Trustee Ann Sutherland listen. Thursday, June 9, 2016, at South Hills High School. Special to the Star-Telegram

Information gathered at six public forums dedicated to discussion of the Fort Worth school district’s guidelines for dealing with transgender students may be used by officials and an as-yet-unappointed committee to clarify the guidelines, Superintendent Kent Sribner said Thursday night.

Before the last forum began at South Hills High School, Scribner told the Star-Telegram that administrators will name an advisory committee including representatives of the general community, and faith and LGBT leaders.

The committee will review the feedback from the forums and will “work toward clarifying and improving the guidelines so they are better understood and more effectively implemented,” Scribner said.

Minutes later, as the forum was called to order, he said, “We are here to listen, learn and to lead,” Scribner said.

He also said that boys and girls will not be sharing bathrooms.

District 6 Trustee Ann Sutherland told people gathered in the high school auditorium that she didn’t support the guidelines when they were discussed by the board in closed session.

The guidelines were put together by administrators to help the school staff implement a broader student welfare policy intended to protect students from bullying and discrimination.

Sutherland said she supports repealing the guidelines, also known as administrative regulations. “I will not waver on this,” Sutherland told the audience.

Twenty-one people spoke Thursday night. That brought the total of speakers at six forums to 147.

The tenor of Thursday’s forum was similar to the others. Teens and adults took to the microphone. Some quoted Bible verses; others alluded to the civil rights movement.

The controversy erupted in early May when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned the legality of the Fort Worth guidelines. Texas and other states subsequently sued the federal government over guidelines that allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

District 5 Trustee Judy Needham said she hopes community fears have been diminished by the forums.

“People are getting more understanding,” Needham said.

At Arlington Heights High School earlier this week, critics said they worried that the district is involved in “social engineering” and is shutting parents out of an important aspect of a child’s life.

Zeb Pent, a spokesman for a group known as Stand for Fort Worth, attended the six forums. He has called the forums “the district’s propaganda tour” because administrators and trustees didn’t indicate that the guidelines could be revisited when the forums were first announced.

Pent said the federal directive is not law and that transgender guidelines will be struck down in court.

“More lawsuits will be filed against the district and the board,” he said.

Pent said distrust in leaders and process remains. He asked how the committee members would be chosen and said the board should vote on the revised guidelines.

Some parents called the guidelines illegal and blasted the school board for leaving them out of the process. They are also critical about a part that states: “In most cases, transitioning is a very private matter. Students may choose whether or not to have their parents participate in this process. In fact, notifying a parent or guardian carries risks for the student in some cases. School personnel must consider the health, well-being and safety of the transitioning student.”

Other people supported the guidelines and said they backed Scribner. They included transgender people and teachers who told audiences personal stories of the challenges faced by transgender students — from bullying to isolation to family acceptance.

Stacey Monroe, a 22-year-old transgender activist, attended five of the forums. She said she wished there had been similiar guidelines in place when she was in high school in Irving.

“There was no one there speaking for me,” said Monroe, who is documenting the Fort Worth debate on social media.

“These are students who are suffering,” said Zachary Collins, English teacher at Arlington Heights and co-sponsor of the campus Gay Straight Alliance [GSA]. “I have worked with students who have no place left to go.”

Collins said educators work with parents on many issues, but when students are being abused by families, teachers must report it to state and local law enforcement. He said that applies to students who are transgender, gay or lesbian. He said he had one student who suffered cigarette burns from a relative because he was gay.

Collins said the student was told by a family member: “It is better to burn now on Earth than to burn in Hell.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1