Fort Worth Independent School District, the sixth largest school districtin in Texas, has issued a new version of its guidance to protect transgender students from discrimination. Instead of eight pages outlining how the district will respect and accommodate students’ gender identity, the guidance is now just a two-page document about working with parents to create an individual education plan. If parents aren’t involved and supportive of their student’s identity, then the student will seemingly not be accommodated.
The abrupt change follows months of controversy, fanned by Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), who asked Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to issue a legal opinion assessing whether the Fort Worth ISD’s original guidance violated state law. Paxton concluded that it did because it instructed school personnel not to out students to their parents without their consent, which he interpreted as violating a statute that prohibits a school district employee from “encouraging or coercing” a child to withhold information from the child’s parents.
Paxton’s decision was non-binding, but it seems to have been the final nail in the coffin of the district’s original guidance. The new guideline, issued Wednesday, offers no provision for what happens if a trans student approaches a school official seeking guidance but is concerned that they will not be accepted at home.
Instead, it simply dictates that “school administrators, guidance counselors, and educators shall engage with parent(s)/guardian(s) and work collaboratively with them and the student to develop individual support plans.” From there, everything is handled on a “case-by-case basis,” including every individual accommodation a student might require. Whereas the previous guidance provided instructions for how all members of the school community will respect transgender students, the new guidance bases everything on each student’s individual support plan.
Even when it comes to restrooms and related facilities, the guidance refers to the support plans, not respecting trans students’ identities:
If a restroom or related facility accommodation is requested, the campus administrator should meet with the student and his/her parent(s)/guardian(s) to discuss the student’s request for access to restrooms, locker rooms, or changing facilities. Each accommodation request will be reviewed and addressed on a case-by-case basis based upon the particular circumstances of the individual student and school facilities. The goal will be the creation of a safe and supportive environment for students impacted by the accommodation with due recognition of the privacy rights of all students.
As a general rule, in all facilities or activities when students may be separated by gender, transgender students may participate in accordance with the student individual support plan.
With this protocol, a parent can overrule the accommodations a transgender student might request. Not only will students be outed to parents who might reject them, their parents can then ensure that rejection persists at school as well. Students will have no right to be called by their preferred name and pronouns or access facilities that match their identities if their parents veto such accommodations in the plan.
As GLSEN previously explained to ThinkProgress, this could have a devastating impact on trans students. Outing them to their parents could even lead to them being kicked out of their home, only furthering endangering their ability to access an education.
Paxton praised the changes on Wednesday for allowing “school officials to consider the needs of students and their families on a case-by-case basis while considering the health and safety of all students.” He then suggested that Fort Worth ISD’s guidance is “in line” with the policy at Harrold ISD, which actually forbids transgender students from ever having their gender identity accommodated. Paxton and a dozen or so states, along with Harrold ISD, are suing the Obama administration to challenge its guidance supporting transgender students.
Fort Worth ISD isn’t the only school backtracking on nondiscrimination protections for transgender students. This week, the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia similarly announced it was delaying implementing comprehensive accommodations for transgender students.