Shared from the 2/24/2017 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Transgender policy change shows split

Reactions vary among Texas school districts

Picture
Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle

Kimberly Shappley worries about her daughter Kai, 6, now that a directive regarding how schools should treat transgender children has been reversed.

Kimberly Shappley accepted that her son needed to be her daughter two years ago after she overheard the child praying and asking God to let him die and live as a girl with Jesus. She spoke to youth psychologists and other experts who convinced her that it was wrong to punish her son for proudly proclaiming that he was a girl.

But Shappley worries what could happen to her daughter, now a 6-year-old named Kai, after the Trump administration Wednesday reversed a directive issued under President Obama that told schools and districts that transgender students should be able to use the restroom of their gender identity, regardless of what gender they were born.

“Leaving transgender rights up to the discretion of states will lead to families like mine having to relocate,” Shappley said. “Transgender youth are merely the latest minority under attack.”

Under the Obama-era directive, schools and districts that failed to comply with the guidelines could have been subject to an Office of Civil Rights investigation.

The majority of Houston-area school districts said they did not change their policies or practices after the Obama administration in May 2016 issued its directive on transgender students.

Spokespeople for 14 local districts — including Alief, Channelview, Clear Creek, Cypress-Fairbanks, Galena Park, Friendswood, Goose Creek, Huffman, Katy, Pasadena, Sheldon, Spring and Spring Branch ISDs, as well as Stafford MSD— said their schools handle transgender student restroom requests on a pupil-by-pupil case basis and have no plans to change that practice under the new federal guidelines.

In those districts, school administrators who receive such requests often take into account the student’s history, privacy concerns, the location of facilities and other factors when determining which restroom a transgender student should be able to use.

Districts taking action

Maria Corrales DiPetta, a spokeswoman for Katy ISD, said her district will not make changes until the end of the current Texas legislative session.

That’s because state lawmakers are debating SB 6, which would require students at public schools and universities and those in government buildings to use the bathroom of the gender reflected on their birth certificates. The bill has been lauded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other conservatives as a commonsense approach to keep men from taking advantage of transgender protections to assault women and children in public restrooms.

If the bill passes, it would likely nullify any local policies for transgender students.

“We haven’t jumped on making any formal, longstanding changes for district until this legislative session ends,” Corrales Di-Petta said.

Some districts, such as Houston and Pasadena ISDs, have non-discrimination policies that specifically protect students regardless of gender expression or gender identity.

At a press coference Thursday morning at the Montrose Counseling Center, Anna Eastman, a HISD Board of Education trustee, said its anti-discrimination policy updated to include gender identity in 2011 to ensure students, their families and employees in the district have a safe space in which to work and in which to learn. She said it’s not a local issue but a human one.

“I know through evidence, knowing kids in our schools that are in safe learning environment who are going through something that is often difficult for them personally and for their families,” Eastman said.

On Thursday evening at the counseling center, more than 100 people gathered in the parking lot to express their displeasure with the new administration’s directive and to show support for transgender students.

Carlos Rodriguez Jr., a 25-year-old administrative clerk at Chavez High School within HISD, said he came to support his LGBTQ community and to show trans-gender students that they’re loved. He said he was bullied in middle school, when students would make their wrists go limp and speak with lisps to imitate him. More recently, a student at Chavez spit on him.

“As much as people don’t think there is harassment or bullying is happening, it is,” Rodriguez said.

Phyllis Frye, the nation’s first openly transgender judge, said those fears that a young prankster could go into the girls’ room by wearing his mother’s wig and dress are overblown. If the young troublemaker were to expose himself to the girls in the restroom or try to video-tape them, Frye said he would be breaking the law.

“Guess what, in Texas those students can be arrested for that just like adults,” Frye said. But some other districts and school leaders have been vocally opposed to allowing trans-gender students to choose which restrooms to use.

After the Obama administrations directive on transgender students was released in 2016, Pearland ISD Superintendent John Kelly said his district requires students to use the restroom of the gender indicated on their birth certificate or use a private bathroom, such as one in the nurse’s office.

Kai, Shappley’s trans-gender daughter, uses her kindergarten class’s private, single-stall bathroom during class and the nurse’s restroom when she’s at lunch or at the playground. Shappley said the school gave Kai the choice to use the nurse’s restroom or the boy’s room, so Kai reluctantly chose the nurse’s bathroom.

Kelly called the 2016 directive unconstitutional interference and social engineering by the federal government.

“When the Supreme Court redefined marriage and invented new constitutional rights, the door was opened for redefining all social norms, now including Executive Branch dictates about bathroom and locker room rules in local schools,” Kelly said at the time. “It is astonishing to watch the flip flop by leaders who 10 years ago strongly endorsed traditional marriage. A hostile vocal minority now rules in America aided by an apathetic, unengaged majority. What’s next? Legalizing pedophilia and polygamy? ”

‘It’s not her fault’

Kelly and Pearland ISD spokeswoman Kim Hocott did not return multiple calls and messages left by a Chronicle reporter Wednesday and Thursday.

But Shappley said her daughter has already suffered from having to use the nurse’s restroom. On multiple occasions, the nurse was out of her office and the door was locked when Kai came to use the facility. In those instances, Kai wet herself.

“That doesn’t seem like a big deal because kindergartners do have accidents,” Shappley said. “But when you’re conditioning this child to realize the adults in her life are not going to consistently be there for her, they’re failing her, that she did her part, she went there and the door was locked, and she peed on the floor.”

Shappley said she’s especially worried about next year because first grade students do not have private restrooms attached to their classrooms. Kai will have another choice: Use the nurse’s restroom every time she has to relieve herself or use the men’s restroom. If she chooses the nurse’s restroom and continues to have accidents, Shappley said she’ll have to continue to have difficult conversations with Kai.

“I have to explain to her that it’s not her fault,” Shappley said. “I have to apologize that she was failed, and I have to remind her of who she is and that the Lord designed her and that she’s beautiful.” shelby.webb@chron.com twitter.com/shelbywebb

See this article in the e-Edition Here