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Conservative lawmakers push for review of school board group’s guidance on transgender students

A hardline conservative group has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on guidance to school districts for navigating issues related to transgender students.
Pu Ying Huang
The Texas Tribune
A hardline conservative group has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on guidance to school districts for navigating issues related to transgender students.

Texas Freedom Caucus asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on school board association’s guidance for navigating complex issues related to transgender youth.

A far-right group of state lawmakers has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to review the Texas Association of School Board’s guidance relating to transgender youth, arguing that the advice 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 guidance related to transgender students after receiving questions from school officials on navigating the complex legal landscape around issues including restroom access and Title IX, a federal civil rights law that bans sex-based discrimination, said TASB Deputy Executive Director Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield.

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

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

“Ultimately, the best advice is to assess each situation as it comes, working closely with the student, parents and district counsel to reach a resolution that protects the learning environment for all,” the guidance states.

The advice drew rebuke from the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservative lawmakers. In a letter to Paxton on Tuesday, Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who chairs the caucus, accused TASB of advising districts to subvert parental rights by not sharing information about a child’s gender identity.

“The Texas Freedom Caucus humbly requests that your office issue immediate review of TASB’s guidance and offer our school boards legal direction to ensure 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 instruction 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 align with their sex assigned at birth. TASB guidance stated that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction in Texas. The association said no other court presiding over the state has ruled on children using restrooms that align with their gender identity.

“Districts are tasked with finding a reasonable resolution that addresses each situation as best as possible, in light of nondiscrimination principles and practical options,” TASB’s guidance stated. It offered suggestions on how schools can communicate with the students and parents to develop a plan for the use of available facilities, including gender-neutral restrooms or changing rooms.

Dunne-Oldfield rejected the claims outlined in Schaefer’s letter, saying TASB “does not tell districts to allow males to enter female restrooms” or advise them to subvert parental rights.

“In fact, we assert that school districts should work with students and parents in navigating these situations and that, ‘parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children and make medical decisions for them,’” Dunne-Oldfield said in a statement.

Paxton’s office, which did not respond to requests for comment, has not issued any statements about Schaefer’s request for a review of TASB’s guidance. But this would not be the first time Paxton has weighed in on whether school employees have to tell parents about a child’s gender identity.

In May, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion stating schools may not withhold health information. The opinion was issued in response to a request from Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who had argued that granting confidentiality to students and staff harmed 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.