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Sherman ISD removes superintendent from fine arts supervision following anti-trans policy

Screenshot of the Sherman ISD Board of Trustees sitting at their chairs during a meeting.
Sherman ISD
The Sherman ISD Board of Trustees voted to removed superintendent Tyson Bennett from overseeing fine arts until further notice.

The Sherman ISD Board of Trustees voted to remove superintendent Tyson Bennett from fine arts supervision on Friday, days after reversing a policy change that prevented a transgender high school student from playing a male role in the play "Oklahoma!”

Board members made their decision after more than two hours in closed session.

The board also voted in favor of creating a committee to engage with a third party to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by district staff related to theater policy changes.

Board members met to continue discussing legal issues concerning Sherman High School's theater program following Tuesday's meeting, which had three hours of public comment.

Dozens of Sherman residents spoke during a shortened public comment on Friday ahead of the board's closed session. Each speaker had a minute to speak to accommodate time restraints, board president Brad Morgan said prior to public comment.

Several of the 31 people who signed up to speak, including Philip Hightower, spoke against Bennett and Johnston, calling the administrators a liability and demanding accountability from the board.

Rusty Sherry, a minister in Sherman, said he felt that, overall, the school board was doing the best for district families.

“I know there’s a lot of hurt in this room,” he said. “We can come through this better and make wise decisions.”

Other speakers in support of Bennett and Johnston said the fight to overturn the policy changes had been won on Tuesday and asked the board to support the administrators.

Nathan Cain, a parent of two students in Sherman ISD, was one of the speakers not in agreement with the backlash against district administrators.

“Who are we fighting for?” Cain asked. “Poor decisions have been made concerning the musical ‘Oklahoma!’ but as we stand today, the hasty decision to cut, recast or cancel the musical has been corrected. For those of you who rejoice, your voice has been heard.”

Sherman High School student Max Hightower, who is transgender, was set to star in his first solo role as the male character Ali Hakim when a new school district policy was announced Nov. 3, barring students from playing characters that don’t align with the student’s gender assigned at birth.

On Tuesday, Philip Hightower, Max’s father, said cisgender students were also targeted, with some students removed from roles that were different genders from them.

During that meeting, Philip Hightower said parents started receiving contradictory messages from the district once the policy changes gained media attention. It was later announced the school would perform a version meant for elementary school students.

Performances of “Oklahoma!” were originally scheduled for Dec. 8-10. New dates have not been announced, but tentative plans for performances are planned for after Jan. 15, according to the district.

The temporary theater program changes in Sherman ISD were the latest example of gender-based policy changes in Texas schools.

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a ban on transgender athletes from participating on collegiate sports teams that do not match their gender assigned at birth.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called for an investigation into the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and Keller Independent School District for anti-LGBTQIA+ policies.

After more than two hours of closed session, the board voted for Chief Academic Officer Amy Pesina to replace Bennett while he is removed from fine arts supervision until further notice.

Board members did not give additional comment on Friday.

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.