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A North Texas school district now lets teachers reject children’s pronouns — even if parents approve of them

By Brian Lopez, The Texas Tribune

A North Texas school district now lets teachers reject children’s pronouns — even if parents approve of them” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Teachers will not be forced to address students by the pronouns that match their gender identity even if a parent asks them to, and transgender students will be barred from playing sports after the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District board approved two new policies targeting gender identity on Monday night.

The new policy also stipulates that individuals in district schools can only use the bathroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth. It’s the latest move by a school board to more formally exclude transgender youth in schools. The board voted ended 4-3 in favor of these policies and several others. Board members Casey Ford, Shannon Braun, Tammy Nakamura, and Kathy Florence Spradley voted for it. Members Jorge Rodríguez, Coley Canter and Becky St. John voted against.

The meeting lasted nearly eight hours, and more than 150 parents and North Texas residents signed up to speak about the proposals before the board was expected to vote.

Ford said the policies were what the school district’s community wanted and were in accordance with state law.

“These policies are the product of input from several groups — the board’s policy committee, the district’s attorneys, the board’s attorneys, a committee of administrators and principals and, most importantly, community members,” Ford said. “But one group that’s had the most input and influence: the Texas state Legislature.”

St. John, who voted against the policies, disagreed.

“This policy is going to harm students in the classroom [and] overburden our teachers for a political agenda,” St. John said.

The Grapevine-Colleyville district, between Dallas and Fort Worth, just added Nakamura and Spradley to its seven-member school board in May. Both received donations from the Christian cellphone company Patriot Mobile, which has targeted the defeat of any school board candidate who endorses what the company calls “critical race theory” and ones who support books about LGBTQ identities, saying that kids were exposed to “explicit, ‘woke’ books.”

None of the seven school board members immediately responded to requests for comment.

The pronoun measure approved by Grapeville-Colleyville ISD states that “the district will not promote, require, or encourage the use of titles or pronoun identifiers for students, teachers or any other persons in any manner that is inconsistent with the biological sex of such person” as listed on a person’s birth certificate.

And if a student, parent or legal guardian asks the teacher to address the student with pronouns that match their gender identity, the district policy leaves it to the teacher’s “discretion” as to whether a teacher will do so. The pronoun policy is one of several new policies that involve how race and gender is addressed in the school district.

Mike Sexton, whose children attend schools in the district, told board members he opposed the proposal targeting LGBTQ students.

“You can talk about Santa Claus, but you can’t talk about gay people to fifth graders,” Sexton said. “This is incredible — you’re acting like people don’t exist. There’s thousands of people in this district that are LGBTQ, that live here, that are taxpayers.”

Another policy prohibits students from participating or competing in athletic events that are “designated for the biological sex opposite to the student’s biological sex.”

One woman whose grandchildren attend schools in the district spoke in favor of the sports policy Monday night.

“The policy on the agenda tonight that keeps girls competing against biological girls is very important to me,” the grandmother said. “I want to make sure that my granddaughters can enjoy the fruits and labor of my generation by participating in fair competitive sports.”

District staff also cannot teach or promote “gender fluidity,” which is the idea that one’s gender identity is not fixed and can extend beyond male and female, and staff also cannot teach or talk about sexual orientation and gender identity until kids are in the sixth grade.

And a third proposal that the Grapevine-Colleyville school board approved Monday night relates to incorporating Senate Bill 3, the state’s so-called critical race theory law, into a districtwide policy.

This is seemingly the first school district to take this formal step. Since the bill was passed last year, there has been confusion about how the law should be applied. School administrators across the state have asked the Texas Education Agency for guidance on the law. The agency’s response is for school districts to continue teaching the current social studies curriculum.

SB 3 was crafted to keep critical race theory out of schools, restricting the way teachers talk about slavery and eventually sending them to civics training. Critical race theory is the idea that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals. It’s an academic discipline taught at the university level. But it has become a common phrase used by conservatives to include anything about race taught or discussed in public elementary and secondary schools.

The Grapevine-Colleyville board’s new policy states that teachers and administrators cannot discuss critical race theory or what they have called “systemic discrimination ideologies.” The policy, like the state law, prohibits teachers from requiring students to read the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” a collection of essays that centered on how slavery and the contributions of Black Americans shaped the United States.

The discussion of such policies comes almost a year after James Whitfield, a Black principal in the district, was put on leave and then eventually resigned after being accused of teaching critical race theory. In 2020, Whitfield emailed a letter to parents and staff in which he wrote that systemic racism is “alive and well” after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Protect Texas Kids, a conservative nonprofit organization, rallied support for the school board meeting, posting on Facebook that conservatives must come out as Democrats were expected to pack the meeting.

“They will be voting on great new conservative policies that will set precedent for other districts,” the organization posted.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas criticized the policies, saying they would restrict education on the country’s history of racism and lessons that incorporate social-emotional learning.

“In order to thrive in a democratic society, students require an accurate and inclusive education so that they better understand the lives, cultures, and experiences of different people,” the organization said in a statement. “This includes learning about the history of and discussing race, gender, and systemic inequity.”

Jesus Vidales contributed to this story.

Disclosure: The New York Times and the ACLU of Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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