Below is an extrememly important letter to the school board from a community member. As we sit here on the eve of the school board almost certainly passing policies that are detrimental to students, especially already marginalized ones, we must step up to support students and staff.
Dear Members of the Board:
I have been a part of the GCISD school district since my oldest child began kindergarten in 2003 and will continue to be affected by district policies until my current 7th grader graduates from high school. As I read the upcoming planned changes in the school board policies, I am devastated by the impact it will have not only on my child, but for the many other children in the district who are marginalized. Therefore, as a parent and a licensed social worker, I feel I need to speak out for the children impacted by these decisions.
Our family is a bit unique, as our youngest child is a different race from the rest of our family due to adoption. It is truly devastating to learn of the research outlining how much more difficult it will be for her to achieve success as compared to my older two children. Just to give a few examples, listed below are just a few of the studies outlining the racial disparities.
I share these examples to emphasize that our schools are not immune from racial bias and inequality. Pretending these issues do not exist and presenting a “whitewashed” version of history while forcing teachers, students, and administrators to avoid these topics not only brings about more stigmatization but also serves to alienate those who are marginalized by its very existence. Furthermore, it produces students who lack the knowledge and crucial critical thinking skills that will be necessary to recognize and eradicate racial and economic disparities that exist throughout our country.
The other issue that I would like to address is the changes regarding the treatment of students who are LGBTQIA+. Again, I am extremely disappointed that the board appears to be targeting yet another marginalized population, especially considering the increased bullying and negative mental health implications resulting from schools that are unable to foster a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ students. According to the Texas Tribune, LGBTQIA+ students in Texas often feel unsupported and targeted within their schools and identified the following issues:
As a social worker, I have witnessed the despair and loss of life associated with marginalized LGBTQIA+ youth and have supported grieving parents and siblings devastated by the loss of their precious children. Statistically, LGBTQIA+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020), and among transgender youth, 56% reported a previous suicide attempt and 86% reported suicidality. (Austin et al., 2020). If schools refuse to acknowledge a transgender student’s gender identity by prohibiting them from updating unofficial school records, such as attendance sheets, student IDs,
yearbooks, etc., with the name and pronouns that reflect the gender they live every day, it can severely impact the student’s ability to learn and thrive at school.
According to Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez, “Politicians meddling in education, banning books, targeting students based on their race or gender or religion really has a direct impact on the bullying, harassment, and violence that we see in our communities every single day,” Martinez said. “Last year … from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2021, there were more than 10,800 [contacts] from Texas students to the Trevor Project, because they were in crisis. And part of the reason why they [were] in crisis was because their humanity was being debated...”. Researchers at The Trevor Project have also found that LGBTQIA+ youths who reported having at least one LGBTQIA+-affirming space, such as a school, home, or workplace, were significantly less likely to attempt suicide. Why would GCISD not want to be a place where ALL students feel accepted and valued?
In addition to the mental health considerations, the new policies, especially the ones targeting students identifying as transgender, are in direct violation of many existing statutes, and subject schools to liability under federal antidiscrimination and privacy laws. Discrimination against transgender students violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). 1 Courts have recognized that deliberately refusing to address transgender individuals by the name and pronouns consistent with their gender identity can be a form of sex-based harassment under state and federal anti-discrimination law. 2 In addition to violating federal antidiscrimination law, refusing to change school records can violate federal privacy laws by revealing the student’s transgender status. Students have the right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation and gender identity under the federal Constitution 3 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).4 As NASSP advises, “transgender status, legal name or sex assigned at birth is confidential medical information and considered ‘personally identifiable information’ under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA). Disclosure of that information to other school staff or parents could violate the school's obligations under FERPA or constitutional privacy protections.”5
As the school board trustees move forward with the agenda on Monday evening, I implore each one of you to strongly consider the negative impact of the proposed changes and ask that you put ALL students first rather than political ideology or fear. The physical and emotional health of marginalized students should not be ignored, and GCISD schools should provide a safe and affirming environment so that all students may flourish and succeed.
1 See, e.g., Whitaker By Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified Sch. Dist., 858 F.3d 1034 (7th Cir. 2017) (holding transgender student likely to succeed on the merits of his Title IX and Equal Protection claims against his high school’s policy barring him from using the boys’ restroom); Dodds v. U.S. Dep’t. of Educ., 845 F.3d 217 (6th Cir. 2016) (school denying transgender students access to restrooms corresponding with their gender identity not likely to succeed on appeal under Title IX).
2 See, e.g., Doe v. City of New York, 976 N.Y.S.2d 360 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2013) (holding that a transgender woman had sufficiently alleged discrimination under state sex discrimination law when the state HIV/AIDS Service Administration continued to address her by her former male name and male pronouns); Burns v. Johnson, 829 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2016) (plaintiff’s allegations, including employer’s purposeful and condescending use of the pronoun “she” to a male transgender employee, supported a reasonable inference of discrimination on the basis of sex); See also OCR Instructions to the Field re Complaints Involving Transgender Students, Dep’t. of Educ. Office for Civil Rights (June 5, 2017), https://assets.documentcloud.org/.../OCR-Instructions-to... (“refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred name or pronouns when the school uses preferred names for gender-conforming students or when the refusal is motivated by animus” is an example of gender-based harassment).
3 See Love v. Johnson, 146 F. Supp. 3d 848 (E.D. Mich. 2015) (state’s unduly burdensome policy for changing sex on driver’s license or ID violated the Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses); Sterling v. Borough of Minersville, 232 F.3d 190 (3d Cir. 2000) (holding officer's threat to disclose arrestee's perceived sexual orientation violated their constitutional right to privacy); Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 685 (6th Cir. 1998) (“Publicly revealing information [about sexuality] exposes an aspect of our lives that we regard as highly personal and private.”); Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d 107, 111 (2d Cir. 1999) (“the Constitution does indeed protect the right to maintain the confidentiality of one’s transsexualism”); Eastwood v. Dep’t of Corr., 846 F.2d 627, 631 (10th Cir. 1988) (right to privacy “is implicated when an individual is forced to disclose information regarding sexual matters.”).
4 See Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 C.F.R. §§ 99.00 et seq. Disclosure of private information related to sex or gender can also violate sex discrimination laws. See Roberts v. Clark Cty. Sch. Dist., 215 F.Supp.3d 1001 (D. Nev. 2016) (disclosure of private information about employee’s transgender status in an email established a prima facie case for harassment/hostile environment under Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition).
5 NASSP, Position Statement on Transgender Students (2016).