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Feds Investigate Texas School District for Its Gender Identity Mandate

Image Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

By Nina Banks, The Texas Tribune

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation Monday into Katy Independent School District’s gender identity policy on the basis of gender harassment under Title IX. The investigation came nine months after the district adopted a policy that notifies parents if their child requests to use a different name or pronouns at school.

Katy ISD did not respond to a request of how many parents have been notified this year under the new policy, which requires staff to inform parents that students are transgender or ask to use different names or pronouns.

The Houston Chronicle reported in December that the district had notified parents at least 23 times since the policy was adopted.

The gender identity policy also bars schools from teaching “gender fluidity” and denies students from competing in sports with the gender they identify with, which mirrors state legislation already regulating K-12 athletics.

Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, a student-led advocacy group, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in November regarding the policy. Katy ISD graduate and member of SEAT Cameron Samuels labels the investigation as a win against the conservative policies being passed in the district.

“Elected solely on platforms to target marginalized students, far-right school board candidates accomplished exactly what they were elected to do: weaponize identity and neglect students’ educational needs,” they said.

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational settings or federally funded activities. Gov. Greg Abbott has loudly voiced his opposition to the federal law recently ordering the Texas Education Agency to disregard the Biden administration’s expansion of Title IX.

“The district is committed to offering equal educational opportunities to our entire community,” a spokesperson from Katy ISD told the Tribune in a response to the investigation. “While we have received the OCR filing and deny any wrongdoing, we are committed to remaining fully cooperative and responsive throughout the process.”

Victor Perez, Katy ISD board president and proponent of the policy, argued that the policy was “mischaracterized” by community members as an attack on its queer and transgender students and instead relieves the burden for staff withholding information from parents. The policy was passed at a board meeting in August with a vote of 4-3 after four hours of public comment.

Alastair Parker, a member of the Cinco Ranch High School Gender-Sexuality Alliance, spoke at the board meeting in opposition to the policy.

Parker and others argued that the policy infringes on the rights of transgender kids to express themselves and opens them to potential harm if they are outed to transphobic parents or caregivers.

Johnathan Gooch from Equality Texas, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Texans, said he hopes students recognize their power to report policies like this in the wake of the increasing number of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ youth.

This isn’t the first instance in Texas of a gender related policy being investigated on the federal level. Carroll ISD in Tarrant County was reported to have eight open investigations last February after it eliminated protections over race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

There are documented mental health benefits to using preferred pronouns. A research team at the University Texas at Austin conducted a study in which they concluded that students in gender-affirming environments report 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% decrease in reported suicidal ideation and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.

“When students place their trust in teachers and school administration, the school has a duty to preserve that trust,” Gooch said. “That duty requires schools to ensure that no disclosure would place a student in harm’s way.”

Parker has been out as a transgender man since the seventh grade and is supported by his father, who he resides with. He acknowledged that this isn’t the case for many of his classmates as some have parents that are less accepting.

His teachers have gone by his preferred name and pronouns for his entire high school experience. But since the policy has been enacted, he has seen some of his peers go by their deadnames fearing that their parents would be notified.

Over the past year, other schools across the state have adopted similar policies.

Keller ISD, which is also in Tarrant County, passed a policy in late June that prevents students from using their preferred name and pronouns or using restrooms with the gender they identify with.

The policy was met with retaliation from the Texas American Civil Liberties Union, writing in a letter to the district that the policy is “deeply invasive and unlawful for school administrators to interrogate students’ private medical information in this way.”

As the end of the school year nears, Parker observed the policy being enforced at varying levels of severity by teachers. The passing of legislation or policy like this deters from the ongoing health crisis for queer and transgender youth and is wholly unnecessary, he said.

“If a child’s not telling their parents something like that, it’s for a reason,” he said. “I know that most of the people who are in favor of this are the ones who bounce off whatever their parents have told them to repeat.”

Disclosure: Equality Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/08/katy-isd-lgbtq-policy-investigation/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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