Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is demanding Fort Worth ISD show him a sixth-grade sexuality and gender curriculum that has been taught for about five years now.
In a letter to the school district, the sixth-largest in the state, Paxton said the district had told some parents that their kids could not bring the textbook home for the parents to check out, and the parents weren't allowed to make copies of the course's textbook, which 22 other districts in Texas also use.
Texas law says parents have the right to know what their students are being taught in school, especially when the education involves sexuality. The primary complainants cited in Paxton’s letter belong to Stand for Fort Worth, an advocacy group that opposes any teaching about “nontraditional” values and transgender issues, according to its website. Some in the group say they were unable to view the textbook. They complain that the full curriculum has not been available to them although there is an outline of the course online.
“Teaching kids about transgenderism is outside the scope of the TEKS [the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test] and should be off limits for public school classrooms,” the group said in a post. “Hiding it from parents or any member of the public is against the law.”
“Transgender” is one among many terms explored by the students in the class. The course, a district spokesman said, is not primarily focused on trans people. It was developed about five years ago, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing high rates of sexually transmitted diseases in Tarrant County, encouraged the school district to adopt it. The focus of the class, which students can opt out of taking, is designed to encourage students to talk to their parents about sexuality and gender, the district says.
“Parents are notified at the beginning of the school year that they have the opportunity to review all of the materials,” Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond told the Observer. “They can review any thing they want. All they have to do is let us know.”
The Fort Worth school district has been a battleground in Republican lawmakers’ brawl over human sexuality and gender in the classroom. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last year called for the district’s superintendent, Kent Scribner, to resign after approving a policy that told district staff to openly acknowledge the gender identity of each student. It was a victory for trans advocates in their broader political struggle.
During the following Texas legislative session, in 2017, Patrick backed Senate Bill 6, known as the “bathroom bill.” It would have required that people use only the bathrooms in government buildings that match the sex on their birth certificates. The bill failed to pass last year, but transgender and other LGBTQ activists took it as a threat to trans and other gender nonbinary people.
The Texas Republican Party has already said the bathroom bill will be a priority in the next legislative session. Patrick has signaled his resolve to attempt its passage.
Paxton, a proponent of the bill, has gone toe-to-toe with the Texas business community, which has overwhelmingly opposed it. The Texas Association of Businesses projected last year that more than 100,000 jobs would be lost if the bathroom bill became law. Speaking at a conference, Paxton told the association to think about the “concern and safety” of children using public bathrooms.
He and other social conservatives, including Patrick, have zeroed in on religious rights to hedge against strides in trans equality. In 2016, Paxton filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which under the Obama administration ruled that health care providers cannot deny people treatment based on their gender, a clear nod to trans people. The Paxton lawsuit claimed that was in violation of providers’ religious rights.
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Back in Fort Worth, the group of parents ticked off about the school district’s course have cited religious rights to oppose open discussions about trans people and about sexuality as a whole.
“Forcing students and families to accept aspects of sexuality that violate sincerely held religious beliefs discriminates against thousands of Muslim, Jewish and Christian families in Fort Worth ISD,” according to the group’s website. The organization could not be reached for comment Monday.
Despite having the spotlight on it, Fort Worth ISD is not making any changes to how or what it teaches.
“We’re not feeling any pressure,” Bond said.