The debate over transgender bathrooms escalated in May when the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education jointly issued a document entitled “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students” directed at schools.
Issued on May 13, 2016, the letter is described by the departments as “significant guidance” that “does not add requirements to applicable law.”
Schools who do not comply, however, are implicitly threatened with loss of federal funding. The departments write:
As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits any sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. And according to the letter, a student’s sex is the gender they identify with, not the gender they were assigned at birth.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick responded to the letter immediately.
“This will be the end of public education if this prevails,” he said in a news conference Friday morning. “People will pull their kids out. Home schooling will explode, private schools will increase.”
Among other “obligations,” the letter directs schools to allow students to use sex-segregated facilities (like restrooms) and participate in sex-segregated activities (like classes or sports) consistently with their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth. The “Athletics” paragraph under “Sex-Segregated Activities and Facilities” section lists one caveat: “sound, current, and research-based medical knowledge about the impact of students’ participation on the competitive fairness or physical safety of the sport.”
Nell Gaither, President of Trans Pride Initiative of Dallas, says she hopes the letter will have a positive affect in Dallas-Fort Worth area schools.
“We hope recognition of trans rights at the federal level brings more sense of safety and security to students who may not experience discrimination but may fear it, or fear to come out because of the likelihood of violence,” Gaither said.
Others are more concerned.
“We’re not going to be blackmailed by his 30 pieces of silver,” Patrick said in an interview with CNN. “Our parents do not want their children showering together. They do not want boys in the girls’ rooms. This will be the end of public schools as we know it.”
Following the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter on May 13, DFW Mag reached out to several major area school districts for comment. Here’s what those that responded had to say:
“The AISD’s policies address and accommodate the needs of all students. There are no specific guidelines for transgender students because our policies allow the flexibility to ensure we meet the academic and social needs of every student.”
– Leslie Johnston, Director of Communications
“We don’t have a comment on that,” said Robyn Harris, Media Specialist for Dallas ISD. Harris added that the district’s Board Policy “prohibits discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
“Frisco ISD works with all students and families to create a safe environment within our schools. Our students are protected from discriminatory conditions, including those regarding gender. The District will continue working with students on an individual basis, if needed, and will review the latest federal guidelines to ensure our practices remain consistent with state and federal law.”
– Meghan Cone, Communications Coordinator
“Plano ISD does not have a policy that specifically addresses transgender bathroom access. Our district has a long history of meeting specific student needs. We will continue our practice of working individually with students and families to make reasonable accommodations in accordance with federal law. Plano ISD is focused on partnering with parents and the community to provide a safe learning environment for all students. The district is diligently working to keep apprised of this evolving area of law.”
– Lesley Range-Stanton, Executive Director for Communications
Grand Prairie, Mansfield, and Prosper Independent School Districts have not yet responded to DFW Mag’s request for comment.