Editorials

Paxton shows where to look to fix FWISD transgender guidelines

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Jay Janner

Unlike Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s continuously meddlesome political grandstanding on the issue, Attorney General Ken Paxton has handed the Fort Worth school district some sound advice on its controversial guidelines for accommodating transgender students.

While Patrick repeatedly insists that Superintendent Kent Scribner should resign — he’s desperately wrong about that, and the mere suggestion is far afield from the lieutenant governor’s job responsibilities — Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion Tuesday helpfully pinpointing the legal weaknesses of the guidelines.

And those weaknesses have nothing to do with what restrooms or locker rooms a transgender student uses at school, the hottest of the issues raised since the guidelines were issued in April.

Paxton, responding to a request from Patrick, said there’s a conflict with state law “to the extent that the Guidelines limit parental access to information about a parent’s child and operate to encourage students to withhold information from their parents.”

In fact, the guidelines do not limit parental access or encourage students to withhold information from their parents. They instruct school personnel to work with students on these issues.

But the guidelines are not written tightly enough to preclude violating parental rights. They need to be rewritten and clarified on this point.

In fact, Valerie Carrillo, the district’s general counsel, wrote exactly that in a June 14 letter to Paxton after the district held six community forums on the transgender guidelines.

“District personnel involve parents in all student matters, including gender identity issues,” Carrillo wrote. “The District intends to clarify this provision of the Guidelines accordingly and may have other changes after receiving parental and community input.”

Paxton also had good advice for the school district on the process it used in adopting the guidelines.

The guidelines were written by the district’s staff and approved by Scribner as administrative regulations meant to tell district personnel how they should act under a policy adopted by the school board in 2011.

That policy prohibits discrimination, including harassment, based on gender identity and expression.

Paxton pointed again to the issue of parental involvement guaranteed by state law and the weaknesses of the guidelines on that point.

Nowhere in the 2011 policy, the attorney general wrote, “has the board of trustees adopted a policy limiting a parent’s involvement or access to information regarding a student’s gender identity, and … doing so would have likely violated state law.”

He continued, writing that “decisions to withhold information from a parent regarding a student's gender identity or suggest that employees might work with a student to restrict parental involvement are in fact significant and controversial matters” that should be “addressed by the board of trustees before prior to the development of any related administrative regulations.”

Paxton has provided a convenient road map for the school district.

As Carrillo indicated, the district should revise the guidelines’ references to parental information and involvement.

Those revisions should not take effect until they are formally approved by the school board.

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