Texas AG urged to review school board associations’ policies on trans youth

A far-right group of state lawmakers has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to revise the Texas School Boards Association’s guidelines for transgender youth, saying the guidelines would “endanger children and encourage school districts to keep parents in the dark.”

The association, which serves more than 1,000 school boards across the state, updated longstanding guidelines related to transgender students after receiving questions from school officials about navigating the complex legal landscape surrounding issues including restroom access and Title IX, a federal civil rights law law that prohibits sex based discrimination, said TASB deputy executive director Tiffany Dunn-Oldfield.

The 13-page document outlines the legal rights of transgender students and explains how districts can avoid policies that run afoul of federal laws that prohibit discrimination.

In its guidelines, the TASB recommends that school administrators talk to students and parents about “appropriate accommodations.” In cases where children ask district officials not to tell their parents about their gender identity, the guidance advises school officials to “proceed with caution” and in accordance with district policy.

“Ultimately, the best advice is to assess each situation as it arises, working closely with the student, parents and district board to reach a solution that protects the learning environment for all,” the guide states.

The council drew rebukes from the Texas Freedom Forum, a group of hardline conservative lawmakers. In a letter to Paxton on Tuesday, Rep. Matt Shafer, R-Tyler, who chairs the group, accused the TASB of advising districts to undermine parental rights by not sharing information about a child’s gender identity.

“The Texas Freedom Caucus humbly requests that your office issue an immediate review of the TASB guidelines and offer our school boards legal guidance to ensure that our schools remain safe and healthy environments,” Schaefer wrote in the letter.

Schaefer is among several Republican lawmakers who have filed more than four dozen bills targeting LGBTQ people, according to Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that tracks such legislation. The bills include measures that would limit classroom education about sexuality and gender identity and gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

Schaefer, who did not respond to requests for comment, also wrote that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that schools can require children to use restrooms that match their gender assigned at birth. The TASB manual states that the court does not have jurisdiction in Texas. The association said no other court presiding over the state has ruled against children using restrooms that match their gender identity.

“Districts are tasked with finding a reasonable solution that applies to each situation as best as possible, in light of non-discrimination principles and practicability,” the TASB guidelines said. He offered suggestions on how schools can communicate with students and parents to develop a plan for using available facilities, including gender-neutral restrooms or changing rooms.

Dunn-Oldfield rejected the claims made in Shafer’s letter, saying the TASB “does not tell districts to allow men into women’s restrooms” or advise them to violate parental rights.

“In fact, we argue that school districts should work with students and parents to address these situations and that ‘parents have the right to guide their children’s upbringing and make medical decisions for them,'” Dunn-Oldfield said in a statement.

Paxton’s office, which did not respond to requests for comment, has not issued any statements regarding Schaefer’s request to review the TASB guidelines. But this won’t be the first time Paxton has weighed in on whether school officials should tell parents about a child’s gender identity.

In May, Paxton issued a non-binding opinion saying schools cannot withhold health information. The opinion was issued in response to a request by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who argued that providing privacy to students and staff infringes on parents’ rights to information about their children. In his letter to Paxton, Cain linked to documents outlining how schools should address issues affecting transgender youth.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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