Paxton asked Harrold school district to challenge federal restroom policy

All students in the Harrold school district attend classes in this building that sits off U.S. 287 in the unincorporated town of Harrold.
All students in the Harrold school district attend classes in this building that sits off U.S. 287 in the unincorporated town of Harrold. Star-Telegram archives

Two days after trustees of the tiny Harrold school district voted to challenge the Obama administration’s transgender restroom directive, the Harrold superintendent was standing beside Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Austin at the announcement of a lawsuit against the federal government.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls, the nearest one to Harrold, decries the federal government’s “massive social experiment” that “runs roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”

School districts nationwide learned about the “experiment” on May 13 when Washington issued a directive that transgender students be allowed to use restrooms that represent their gender identities, not their biological sex. School districts could risk losing federal funding if they do not comply.

The Harrold district made headlines in 2008 as the first school district in Texas to allow teachers to carry handguns.

On Monday night, Harrold trustees unanimously approved a policy that states, “Every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility shall be designated for and used only by individuals based on their biological sex.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent David Thweatt said Paxton’s office called him last week.

“They just said, ‘Would you be willing to pass this policy?’ ” he said.

The school board was going to “codify” its rules regardless of the request, Thweatt said.

The district made headlines in 2008 when it became the first in the state to allow select teachers and staff members called “guardians” to carry concealed handguns at work. School officials said the district is a 30-minute drive from the nearest law enforcement help, the Wilbarger County Sheriff’s Department.

Thweatt said the concealed carry vote may have provided “context” to Paxton’s office that the district would be on board with the restroom restrictions.

To his knowledge, Thweatt said, none of the 100 or so students in the district identifies as transgender and no parents have complained about restroom incidents.

Harrold school trustees voted Monday to refer to birth certificates instead of self-identification

The Harrold district is one of two districts named as plaintiffs in Paxton’s suit. The other is in Arizona.

Thweatt said he didn’t know whether the attorney general’s office asked other districts to stand up to the federal government on restroom policies. Paxton’s office could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

Harrold trustees asked for Paxton to back them up legally, and they voted to retain him as their attorney. Their agenda for the Monday meeting says, “Consider and possibly approve initiation of litigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the district with regard to the revised Policy CK (LOCAL), if approved.”

They just said, ‘Would you be willing to pass this policy?’

Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt

“We weren’t looking to do this,” Thweatt said. “We were hoisted by the Obama administration, who have gone outside their jurisdictional right, to do something I think was not right.

“As a person who has been in school business for 36 years, I know this is a very, very bad idea. What they have decided is we are going to potentially have a boy to go in and dress with the girls, and I don’t know what type of person that thinks this is a good idea.”

He said it’s not just an issue of students using the restroom during the school day but also of adults who are at the schools for events open to the public.

“Grown men going into restrooms for little girls and peeing? This is a ridiculous idea,” he said.

Grown men going into restrooms for little girls and peeing? This is a ridiculous idea.

Harrold Superintendent David Thweatt

According to the suit, the Harrold district’s operating budget for 2015-16 is more than $1.4 million. Of that, $117,000 is federal funds.

“Because of the wording from the Obama administration, we were forced to take legal action when it comes to relief,” he said. “If they are threatening to take billions and billions of dollars [from U.S. schools] we believe that is a federal overreach.”

Whether or not transgender people are protected under federal civil-rights law has yet to be decided by the courts, but schools that don’t comply with the restroom directive could face civil-rights lawsuits.

“It’s unheard of!” Thweatt said. “I believe this is historic.”

Monica S. Nagy: 817-390-7792, @MonicaNagyFWST

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram