Equity & Diversity

Texas School District Imposes Broad Restrictions on Transgender Students’ Rights

By Eesha Pendharkar — September 07, 2022 4 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
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Students at the Grapevine-Colleyville district in Texas will be required to use bathrooms aligned with their gender. Their teachers don’t have to respect students’ preferred pronouns. And students won’t be permitted to learn anything about gender fluidity in the classroom or read books about it at their school library.

That’s according to a policy the school board passed last month that imposes harsh restrictions on the learning and sports opportunities of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students.

The measure is apparently the most restrictive in Texas, shaping trans students’ access to team sports, bathrooms, and representation in the curriculum and library books.

It goes beyond the requirements of a law Texas legislators passed last year requiring transgender students participate on sports teams aligned with their sex assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity—or last year’s law restricting classroom conversations on race, racism, and sexism.

“It really is just crushing to students because it has every anti-LGBTQ+ education policy that’s been floated around recently all in the same district at the same time,” said Rachel Hill, government affairs director for Equality Texas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Texans. “All of these policies together collectively say ‘You do not belong here. And your existence is taboo and not welcome.’”

The district said it was responding to state mandates.

“Many of these policies are in accordance with Texas Education Code and developed to align with TEA guidance,” said Grapevine-Colleyville spokesperson Nicole Lyons in an email when asked about the reason behind passing the policy and the planned implementation. “Our practice is that after the Board has approved a policy, the district will plan procedures, education, and training to guide our daily work, which includes developing administrative regulations for some of the policies to ensure consistency at every level.”

A handful of districts across the country have imposed policies similar to aspects of Grapevine Colleyville’s new mandate.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough school board in Alaska and the Hempfield School District in Pennsylvania, for example, have approved policies that prevent students from playing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. At least three districts—the Kettle Moraine district in Wisconsin, Carroll County district in Maryland, and the Newberg school district in Oregon—have passed policies prohibiting employees from displaying pride flags or other symbols deemed “political” or controversial.

Districts imposing policies that aim to restrict lessons on race, racism, and gender identity echo the Republican-led push nationally to limit these same classroom conversations. In some instances, as happened in Grapevine-Colleyville, these policies are proposed and passed when a small number of right-wing school board candidates win seats on the board and promote their agenda, Hill said.

An earlier version of the Grapevine-Colleyville policy was tabled right before the school board election, Hill said. When the new members were elected, the policy they passed was much more restrictive.

“Opposition groups are infiltrating school boards. Really paying attention to who represents you even on the most local level, I think is so, so important right now,” Hill said. “Because we’re seeing people who are elected who don’t represent community interests at all.”

What’s in the restrictive new policy

Grapevine-Colleyville’s broad policy aims to restrict freedoms of trans and nonbinary students in a number of ways. Teachers and other district employees “shall not teach, instruct, train, or otherwise promote gender fluidity,” according to the policy. The district will also not “promote, require, or encourage the use of titles or pronoun identifiers for students, teachers, or any other persons in any manner that is inconsistent with the biological sex.”

Gender fluidity is defined by the district as “any theory or ideology that espouses the view that biological sex is merely a social construct … that it is possible for a person to be any gender or none (i.e., nonbinary) based solely on that person’s feelings or preferences or … that an individual’s biological sex should be changed to ‘match’ a self-believed gender that is different from the person’s biological sex.”

If a student, parent, or legal guardian requests the use of a specific pronoun, “district personnel interacting with the student may comply with such request at their discretion,” the policy says.

The policy also prohibits students from using restrooms or changing facilities aligned with their gender identity and only allows students to participate on school teams based on their sex assigned at birth.

Finally, teachers are not allowed to teach or use “critical race theory,” or “systemic discrimination ideologies,” in the classroom. And any instruction based on the 1619 Project—a series of New York Times essays and other media which analyze how slavery impacted American social, political, and economic structures—is also banned.

“It is tragic that the adults in the seat are not protecting trans and nonbinary students but instead are attacking them,” said Kate Huddleston, an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “I look forward to seeing how students and parents at GCISD will continue to fight this policy.”

Last week, about a 100 students from Grapevine High School walked out of class to protest the policy, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Although the ACLU has not announced a legal challenge to Grapevine-Colleyville’s policy, the organization published a fact sheet outlining all the issues the day it was passed. It contends that the policy is anti-trans, is likely to cause a chilling effect in the teaching of race and gender identity, and violates the First Amendment.

Thehe ACLU is “evaluating all options” when it comes to a lawsuit against the policy, Huddleston said.

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