Declaring that "this fight is just beginning," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday escalated his battle against guidelines in Texas and across the country that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Speaking to reporters at the Texas Capitol, Patrick announced a number of new moves in the offensive, including a request for an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the Fort Worth Independent School District broke the law when it adapted such guidelines last month. Patrick also said he was sending a letter to all Texas school districts advising them to ignore a similar directive issued this month by the federal government.
Throughout his remarks, Patrick suggested that state lawmakers would have to step in if Fort Worth ISD did not reconsider its actions. He also repeatedly pushed back on the idea that he is intruding on a local matter, saying it is “this superintendent and school board that is prohibiting local control."
"When we have a rogue, runaway superintendent and a rogue, runaway school board, then the Legislature this coming-up session is going to have to look at this issue because the law is clear," Patrick told reporters. "So what do parents do when the superintendent and the school board ignores them? When the superintendent and school board breaks the law, if that's the case? The parents are going to look to us."
Patrick first waded into the controversy three weeks ago, when he called for the resignation of Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner over new rules he implemented that seek to accommodate transgender students. The issue was compounded several days later, when the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to school districts across the country, telling them to let transgender students use the bathroom that matches up with their gender identity.
Patrick's request for an opinion from Paxton asks the attorney general to weigh in on two issues: whether the Fort Worth ISD guidelines violate a part of the Texas Education Code in an "effort to keep student information from parents" and whether Scribner had the power to implement the guidelines "without adoption by school board vote and without public comment." Paxton, a fellow Republican who last week sued the Obama administration over its transgender directive, is likely to side with Patrick.
Patrick's letter to Texas school districts formalizes his previous advice, voiced in a separate news conference this month, that they should not follow Obama's directive. "Now that's a violation of local control — when the president of the United States of America decides to get into every schoolhouse in the United States of America," Patrick said Tuesday.
Patrick also used Tuesday's Capitol news conference to draw attention to what he has called a series of "sham hearings" that start today in Fort Worth ISD over the controversy. Patrick scoffed at the idea the proceedings would be fairly conducted or lead to meaningful change, pointing out that Scribner has made clear he stands by the guidelines."
"If he doesn't pull down the policy, the school board should fire him," Patrick said, "and if the school board doesn't fire him, the people of the Fort Worth Independent School District will have to hold the school board accountable."