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Rural school district near Austin stirs up transgender bathroom debate

November 1st, 2016 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Rural school district near Austin stirs up transgender bathroom debate

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas—Another Texas school district is embroiled in controversy over its decision to reportedly allow an elementary school student—a biological boy who identifies as a girl—to use the girls’ restrooms. Dripping Springs Independent School District (DSISD) parents told school board members they should have been informed of the unwritten policy as it directly impacts their children.

Parents, on both sides of the debate, spoke out during the public forum portion of the September and October DSISD school board meetings. Because the issue was not on the agenda, board members did not respond to statements or questions. The board, to date, has refused to put the matter on an upcoming agenda, with Superintendent Bruce Gearing remaining mute on the subject. Citing privacy laws the district stated in a press release it would not respond to “inquiries about any individual student’s accommodation.”

“In the absence of clear guidance from the courts on the question of accommodations for transgender students, the district is handling individual student requests for accommodations on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the age of the student, the nature of campus facilities, the activities the student participates in and the privacy interests of other students,” the district stated in a press release.

The TEXAN received the press release in response to several questions.

Dripping Springs, about 25 miles southwest of Austin, maintains a small-town atmosphere. The city proper population of 1,788 is surrounded by 30,000 residents including 6,000 DSISD students who attend the district’s five schools.

Testimonies at the meeting indicated the lack of transparency by the district angered parents as much as the policy. In late September, when social media lit up over the decision to allow a young boy to use the girls’ bathroom, parents felt betrayed.

“That hit me hard,” Steve Curran, a father of two daughters, told the TEXAN. “We tend to be conservative out here. That sounds like something that should have been discussed in the open.”

Curran’s reaction echoed that of parents who addressed the school board Sept. 26, a day after word began to spread. Concern over the violation of the privacy and dignity of girls gave way to frustration with the district for keeping parents in the dark.

At the September board meeting, parent Glenn Banton condemned the board and administrators for making a “unilateral decision” without communicating with families whose children would be impacted by the unwritten policy that Banton said put the needs of one student over the needs of all others using the same facility.

“Who gets priority?” he asked the board.

Before he addressed the Oct. 24 board meeting, Curran filed a letter of protest with the district asking the principals on his daughters’ intermediate and high school campuses to discuss the issue with him.

Students, not district officials, made Curran aware of a transgender junior high student. District officials told him the student does not use the single-sex bathrooms on that campus. A high school representative told Curran transgender restroom use was not an issue at the district’s lone high school.

“It will be,” Curran said, if students coming up through the system are accommodated as the elementary school student is now.

The Dripping Springs controversy comes on the heels of a months-long protest by parents in the Fort Worth Independent School District over a written policy drafted and implemented by district administrators without school board or community input. The policy allowed biological males and females to use the private facilities of their choice, including restrooms and locker rooms.

An open records request by the TEXAN to FWISD revealed guidance material for the policy amounted to little more than news articles and blogs about the plight of transgender teens. The material included no medical or statistical studies on the nature of gender confusion or best practice recommendations from objective sources. But documents did include material sourced from LGBT advocacy organizations that often help draft bathroom policies.

Public pressure forced FWISD to rescind the transgender bathroom policy.

The Texas Legislature will address the issue during the 2017 legislative session, said Nathan McDaniel, who serves as communications director for Texas Sen. Donna Campbell. Campbell represents District 25, which includes Dripping Springs.

“It has become a priority for the Lt. Governor, and we plan to file legislation to protect the dignity and privacy of women and children,” McDaniel told the TEXAN.

In a statement released to the district prior to the Sept. 26 board meeting, Campbell said, “I strongly encourage Dripping Springs ISD to support bathroom and locker room policies that reflect common sense, take every student's safety into account, and give full consideration to the concerns of parents in the most transparent manner possible.”

Curran said he knew nothing of the roiling pro-transgender movement prior to the issue arising in his own district. As a Christian he said the Bible instructs Christians to treat everyone with compassion and dignity but to also stand for truth.

When he addressed the school board during its Oct. 24 meeting, Curran prayed, set his prepared notes aside and spoke off the cuff. He knows most of the board members and attends the same Catholic Church as the superintendent.

Parents who spoke in support of the policy at the September board meeting said the children should be able to declare their identity and the adults should affirm it.

Kindal Baker insisted the little boy is a girl and any child uncomfortable with “her” using the girls’ restroom can use a single-stall bathroom elsewhere on campus.

Another parent, Grant Tait, said he understands the policy seems “weird” because it is a new idea that the community at large has not come to terms with. But, he said, if elementary students are taught that a biological boy who presents himself as a girl is “normal” then that idea will be normal on the intermediate, high school and college campuses. And, ultimately, in society in general.

“And that’s fine,” Tait concluded.

“That’s indoctrination,” Curran said. “It’s not OK to act out on this. Sometimes love says, ‘No.’”