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Citizens, parents, pastors question controversial FWISD transgender guidelines

Ethicist says new guidelines go beyond nondiscrimination policy

May 23rd, 2016 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Citizens, parents, pastors question controversial FWISD transgender guidelines

Texas Atty. General Ken Paxton joins Fort Worth parents in calling for repeal of FWISD's controversial transgender guidelines, May 16. Photo by Gary Ledbetter

FORT WORTH—Concerned citizens and parents took their message from the Fort Worth Independent School District boardroom to the media in an ongoing effort to repeal a new and controversial set of policy guidelines. The rules, they argue, go beyond the prohibition of hurtful behavior listed in a 2011 nondiscrimination policy and, instead, compel FWISD personnel and students to accommodate transgender students in ways that violate conscience and privacy.

A week after supporters and dissenters packed the May 10 FWISD school board meeting, a racially diverse group of parents, pastors and state officials addressed the media May 16 and demanded the board rescind the policy guidelines.

Allison Kelley, a Fort Worth mother of four, said her 13-year-old son “identifies emotionally, academically and socially as an 8-year-old” as a result of autism.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to have a child who is in the minority, a child who does not fit in, a child who struggles,” she said.

When Kelley asked if her son could repeat fifth grade, she was told that he could not because of his biological age. Kelley acquiesced when presented with data that supported the district’s policy. What was “in the best interest of the majority” was “ultimately in his best interest,” she said.

Not so, with the current policy guidelines she told reporters.

“Fort Worth ISD has put in place a policy that may be harmful to many, yet with no reported, long-term data to support it,” Kelley said.

FWISD claims the compelling reason for guideline development was “the increasing number of known transgender students in schools as well as the growing support for research indicating that enforcing fixed notions of what it means to be a boy or a girl may have negative effects on children.”

However, Clint Bond, director of external & emergency communications at FWISD, said administrators do not know how many of their 86,000 students identify as transgender.

“We don’t keep that number,” he told the TEXAN.

According to the Williams Institute at the University of California School of Law, 0.3% of the U.S. population identifies as transgender, which if applied to FWISD would yield only 258 transgender students district-wide. With 146 campuses, this would be an average of less than two students per school.

The TEXAN sent a detailed list of questions to the district asking, for example, that administrators supply the documentation supporting their assertion that using gender specific language like “boys” and “girls” is harmful to students. The district said the questions could not be answered without an Open Records request, which the TEXAN will be submitting.

Critics decried the lack of community involvement in the creation and vetting of the guidelines, but Bond said neither are required because, “This is not policy.” Guidelines, unlike policies, do not require board approval.

The Transgender Student Guidelines were drawn up, Bond said, to give guidance to personnel seeking clarity on compliance with the 2011 nondiscrimination policy. The 2011 policy was passed, per district standards, following two public school board meetings and a vote by the board. The Statement of Nondiscrimination prohibits discrimination and harassment “against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.”

The district’s qualification of the new standards as “guidelines” instead of “policy” is a distinction without a difference according to mother-of-five Julia Keyes, who is part of the leadership for Stand for Fort Worth, a coalition of parents and citizens seeking repeal of the guidelines.

“It goes above and beyond the nondiscrimination policy. It outrages me. It defies common sense,” Keyes said.

One school board member of a different North Texas school district, who asked to speak anonymously, recognizes the need to provide some unique provisions for students who do not fall into the norm of academic and social life. At the same time, the board member and parent of two special needs children said, “When I’m making policy, I’m acting on behalf of all children, not just the ones who look like mine.”

The FWISD guidelines, the member said, are at odds with the interests of the majority of the students and even their parents, who should have been a part of the policy creation process.

FWISD Superintendent Kent Scribner has stood by the guidelines he submitted, arguing they are necessary for the safety of all students. But Fort Worth pastors and a seminary ethicist contend the rules put school personnel and students in the untenable position of violating their consciences in order to avoid disciplinary action by district administrators.

“These new guidelines create real problems for Christian teachers and counselors because they require affirmation of behavior such teachers and counselors would consider to be a violation of their faith,” said Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“These policies go beyond merely prohibiting harassment or discrimination. They require an affirmation of a controversial perspective on gender and sexuality. Although the document suggests there is research to support these guidelines, the district does not offer any specifics about the research.”

Bob Pearle, pastor of Birchman Baptist Church of Fort Worth, agreed.

Such a radical departure from a fundamental distinction of humanity—what it means to be male and female—is neither accurate nor helpful to the students struggling to understand their gender identity, Pearle said.

Travis Avenue Baptist Church pastor Mike Dean said church members who either work for or have children enrolled in the district are confounded by the situation.

“Their main concern is how they will personally administer this policy,” Dean said. “It flies in the face of what we believe about God’s creation.”

The guideline summary says administrators should “seek opportunities to be an example in abandoning gender references” and calls for the elimination of such “arbitrary” terms as “boys” and “girls.”

“This is an attempt to remove the concept of gender from the educational environment. It is a denial of biological reality and hints at the overall goals of sexual progressivism,” Lenow said.