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Fort Worth Revises Transgender Student Guidelines

The Fort Worth Independent School District issued new guidelines on Wednesday for accommodating transgender students, pleasing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expressed his opposition to new rules for transgender children in the Fort Worth Independent School District at a press conference in Fort Worth on May 10, 2016.

The Fort Worth Independent School District issued new guidelines on Wednesday for accommodating transgender students, making minor revisions that prompted Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare victory in their assault on the district's previous policy.

Fort Worth ISD found itself in the middle of a statewide controversy in April when it issued an eight-page set of guidelines instructing district employees to acknowledge transgender students’ gender identity and provide accommodations. Patrick flew to Fort Worth to hold a press conference decrying the policies and requested an opinion on their legality from Paxton.

The new guidelines, condensed to two pages, affirm transgender students’ right to accommodations but eliminate a portion of the April guidelines that told schools not to out transgender students to their parents out of concern for their safety.

The new guidelines require parents to be involved with students and administrators in developing a “student individual support plan,” including provisions for bathroom use. Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD, said the change was insignificant.

“In essence, there’s no change from the original guidelines issued on April 19 compared with the ones issued today,” Bond said. “The wording is a little bit different. We always intended to involve parents in the decision.”

Paxton seemed to disagree in a Wednesday morning press release cheering the new guidelines, which he said brought Fort Worth in line with the opinion he issued on June 28. Paxton concluded in his opinion that state law did not allow schools to conceal transgender students’ gender identity from their parents.

Jacinto Ramos, president of the Fort Worth school board, called Paxton’s opinion a “good road map” to the revised guidelines. He emphasized that the changes reflected input from parents, students and community members. The district held six town hall forums, and appointed 45 parents, teachers, and community leaders to a Student Safety Advisory Council that met five times.

Ramos said that the guidelines are meant to be comprehensive, and not just address which bathrooms transgender students use.

“The original guidelines were written with every intention to protect all children, and obviously it got twisted up into a so-called bathroom policy, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Ramos said.

While the old guidelines included sections with provisions for names and pronouns, privacy, restrooms, and dress code, the new guidelines leave it to students, parents and administrators to address those areas in individual accommodation plans.

Patrick characterized it as a significant reversal. 

“I am pleased the FWISD superintendent and school board have listened to parents in the school district and pulled down their existing transgender policy,” Patrick said in a statement.

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, who represents Fort Worth, also issued a statement praising the revisions for ensuring parents would be treated as "part of the solution and not as part of the problem."

Texas Values, a socially conservative policy group that advocated against Fort Worth’s April guidelines, issued a press release headlined “Victory! Fort Worth ISD Retreats on Transgender Policy, School Bathroom Rules Changed." 

But groups on the other side of the culture wars didn’t declare defeat. Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator at Equality Texas, said in an email to The Texas Tribune that Equality Texas applauded Fort Worth ISD’s clarification of its transgender student guidelines.

“All individual support plans must be consistent with FWISD codes of conduct and policies – which prohibit discrimination based upon gender identity and gender expression,” Weaver said. 

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