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Fort Worth Superintendent Won't Resign Over Transgender Bathroom Policy

Shelby Knowles
Texas Tribune
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, called on Fort Worth Independent School District Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign over the district's bathroom guidelines for transgender students.

The Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent said Tuesday he will not heed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's request for his resignation over the district's bathroom guidelines for transgender students.

Patrick on Monday called for Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign over a policy the superintendent announced last month that directs district employees to "acknowledge the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts," allowing them to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

"I’m proud of these guidelines,’’ Scribner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board Tuesday. “I think they provide educators with the ability to make all students more comfortable and confident in a learning environment."

Patrick said the policy puts students in danger and Scribner should not have acted without "any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders." 

"Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position," Patrick said in a statement Monday. "Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged."

When asked about Scribner's comments, Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond confirmed the superintendent's intentions to stay in his post. Bond also provided a statement from the Board President Jacinto "Cinto" Ramos. 

"Rest assured, the safety of ALL children is our highest priority on the Board," Ramos said in the statement. "We are completely capable of handling this in Fort Worth. We are applying the existing policy to make sure ALL children feel safe at school. We are here to look out for ALL children; not some, not most, but ALL children."

Patrick's call for Scribner's resignation comes during an increasingly tense battle over rights of transgender people across the country. North Carolina and the U.S. Department of Justice sparred over the state's House Bill 2, which would prohibit people from using public restrooms that do not align with their biological sex. Patrick and other conservative leaders have pledged to pursue a similar law during next year's legislative session in Texas.

Patrick is holding a press conference in Fort Worth Wednesday ahead of a school board meeting. The bathroom policy is not on the board’s agenda, but is likely to be discussed during a public comment period.

Opponents and supporters of the new guidelines are expected to swamp the meeting; conservative groups have sent emails this week urging concerned parents and citizens to attend.  

Scribner announced the bathroom policy at the school board’s April 19 meeting, where there was no related discussion, according to a Star-Telegram report. The board was not asked to vote on the policy because it is an “administrative guideline,” which is a policy that superintendents can implement without official board approval.

“These new guidelines would threaten the safety and privacy of children in all Fort Worth schools by opening little girl’s bathrooms and locker rooms to boys,” conservative group Texas Values said in a press release Monday urging opponents to attend the board meeting. “Further, the guidelines were not debated, discussed or voted on at any board meetings.”

Patrick's call for Scribner's resignation also sparked comment from Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who said Patrick should be focusing on more pressing education issues.

“Last I checked our children are stuck in overcrowded classrooms, the school finance system is broken, the STAAR test is a mess, pre-k needs to be expanded statewide, and our teachers need a raise, but Tea Party Lt. Gov. Patrick has nothing better to do than police the potties," Hinojosa said in a statement.

The Fort Worth school district — the sixth-largest in the state — appears to be a pioneer among the state’s bigger, urban school districts in adopting a transgender bathroom policy.

At least four of the five Texas school districts that enrolled more students than Fort Worth last school year don’t have specific rules on the books dictating how to handle bathroom use by transgender students, according to spokespeople in the Dallas, Cy-Fair, Northside and Austin districts. (A spokesman for the Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, did not immediately respond to a request for information on its rules.)

Nicole Ray, a spokeswoman for the Cy-Fair school district, the state’s third-largest, said the district handles the issue on a case-by-case basis because “it may not be the same with every child.”

“We try to work with them individually to meet their needs and what they’re comfortable with and we find that’s really been the best way to find that everyone’s needs are met,” she said.

El Paso Superintendent Juan Cabrera said he began exploring the possibility of adopting such a policy last summer, when he directed school district lawyers to study current guidelines. For now, he said the district follows certain local and federal guidelines that say schools should accommodate the bathroom needs of transgender students however possible.

“We’re a very progressive city and progressive school district and we want to afford all of our children every right and accommodation that they deserve,” he said.

Asked if he would seek board approval for such a policy, Cabrera said it depends.

If it’s a matter of student safety, “I absolutely have the right to implement administrative regulations to make sure they all feel safe,” he said. “I’m not going to subject myself to political will if I think safety of the children” is at stake.

If it’s a matter of building gender-neutral restrooms or anything that would cost money or a lot of time, he said he would seek board approval.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.